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 • Clay County
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Sever Johnson
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Birth: Apr. 14, 1853
Dane County
Wisconsin, USA
Death: Dec. 21, 1907
Clay County
Minnesota, USA

Sever L. Johnson was the son of Norwegian immigrants, Louis and Dora Johnson, and was born on April 14, 1848, in Deerfield, in Dane County, near Madison, Wisconsin. The 1850 Federal Census for Deerfield, Dane County, Wisconsin, done October 29, 1850, lists Sebert [sic] as the son of Lewis and Dorthea Johnson He is 2 years old and was born in Wisconsin. His parents are both listed as being born in Norway. His father is a laborer with $300 in owned real estate (page 377 #37).

Sever's younger brother, John L. Johnson, was born in Deerfield, Dane County, Wisconsin in 1853.

From Wisconsin the family moved to Havana township, Steele County, Minnesota. Norwegians in the 1857 Minnesota Territorial Census for Havana and Aurora Townships, Steele County, Minnesota lists Sever as the child of Lewis and Dortene Johnson. They are family 23 living in dwelling 23. Sever is incorrectly listed as Ceon. He is a white male who is 9 years old. He was born in Wisconsin. This information is contained on page 67 of the Havana township information (Information obtained from Chris Larson's website @

The 1860 Federal Census for Dover, Owatonna Post Office, Steele County, Minnesota, done July 3, 1860, lists Sever as the first son of Dortesia Johnson, who was 40 and born in Norway. Sever is listed as being 12 years old and born in Wisconsin. His brother, John, is listed as being 7 years old and born in Wisconsin (page 29, #12-14).

Norwegians in the 1865 Minnesota State Census for Havana and Aurora Townships, Steele County, Minnesota, lists Sever as the son of Dorothea Johnson who live in Dover (later Havana) as family #50. He is a male who was born in Wisconsin. His brother, John, is also listed. His father was not listed with the family and was probably travelling or in the Army (Information obtained from Chris Larson's website @

The 1870 Federal Census for the Town of Havana, in the County of Steele, State of Minnesota, done August 18, 1870, lists Severt (sic: Sever) as a Farm Laborer on the Harvey Jirves (?) farm next door to his father's farm. He is 22 years old and a white male. He was born in Wisconsin, but his father and mother were of foreign birth. He is a male citizen of the U. S. of 21 years of age and upwards (page 7, printed page 223).

Norwegians in the 1875 Minnesota State Census for Havana and Aurora Townships, Steele County, Minnesota lists Sever Johnson as family number 41. At this point Sever had his own land to farm. He is a white male who is 27 years old. He was born in Wisconsin of parents born in Norway. The information is found on page 6, and he was living by himself (Information obtained from Chris Larson's website @

Sever Johnson married Bertha Johnson on February 5, 1876, in Steele County, Minnesota {Steele County Marriage Records found at Bertha was a Johnson who married a Johnson, just like their great-granddaughter, Carol Johnson. After his marriage in 1876, Sever farmed in the Havana area.

The 1880 Federal Census for the Town of Havanna (sic), Steele County, Minnesota, done June 14, 1880, lists Sever as a farmer on the farm of Ole Hageson. Sever is listed as being 32 years old. He is married and was born in Wisconsin of parents born in Norway. His wife is listed as Besy [sic - Should be Bertha]. She is listed as being 29 years old. She is keeping house and was born in Norway of parents born in Norway. Living with them are 2 daughters, Dora L., age 4, and Tedie E., age 1 (ED 239, Page No. 19, #14-17). Dora was born in Owatonna on May 12, 1876, and Teda was born in Owatonna on June 20, 1878. Sylvester Johnson, their only son, was born in Owatonna on November 22, 1881.

Family gossip contends that during his marriage to Bertha, Sever fathered a child by Bertha's sister, Bessie, when she was visiting to help her sister during childbirth. Bessie's daughter, Ann, was born in 1880, before her marriage to Ben Stanchfield. Louis and Englive Johnson, the parents of both Bertha and Bessie, raised Ann because Ben Stanchfield never accepted her. (Anna Johnson is listed as a granddaughter living with Louis and Englive Johnson in the 1880 Federal Census for Havanna, [sic] Steele County, Minnesota. She was 6 days old at the time of the census in June, 1880. Her mother, Bessie, is listed as being Betsy and was only 17 years old at the time. Anna was born of parents born in Wisconsin. Interestingly enough, both Bessie and Sever were born in Wisconsin. [ED 239, page 6, #1). An e-mail from Chris Larson, dated March 28, 2002, confirms that the Aurora Lutheran Church's Baptismal Record for Ann lists Sever as her father.

In 1883, Sever, Bertha and their three children left all of their relatives in Steele County and moved to a farm near Elmwood, Sabin, Clay County, Minnesota. It is unknown why they moved to the Red River Valley area of Minnesota. Speculation might include getting Sever away from Bessie or the fact that the Red River Valley was a great potato farming area, where Sever had a chance to have his own farm. "Elmwood town was organized from congressional townships 137 and 138, range 47, it being the twelfth in the county," in January, 1880 (History of Clay and Norman Counties, Minnesota. John Turner and C. K. Semling, editors. Volume 1. Indianapolis, Indiana: B. F. Bowen and Company, 1918, page 83).

The 1885 Minnesota Territorial and State Census for Sabin, Elmwood, Clay County, Minnesota, done 8 June 1885, lists family #34 as the Syvert (sic: should be Sever) JOHNSON family. He is a white male who is 37 years old. He was born in Wisconsin of parents of foreign birth. Also living with him are his wife, Bertha, his two daughters, Dora and Tida (sic: Teda), and his son, Sylvester (page 5, #9-13, info obtained from

Ther 1895 Minnesota Territorial and State Census for Elmwood District #7, Clay County, Minnesota, done 10 June 1895, lists Sever L. Johnson and his family. He is a 42-year-old white male who was born in Wisconsin. He has lived in Minnesota for 32 years and in this enumeration district for 10 years. His occupation is Farmer, which he has been for the past 12 months. His parents are of foreign birth. Also listed with him are his wife, Bertha; his daughters, Dora M. and Teda A., and his son, Sylvester J. (V290_54, page 1, info obtained from

The move to northwestern Minnesota did not stifle Sever's sexual prowess. Records indicate that Sever and Bertha adopted a son, Alvin Johnson, who was born May 8, 1897(sic: 1898). Family rumors contend that Alvin was the product of a sexual liaison between Sever and a maid employed on the farm. However, the 1900 Federal Census shows Alvin as being born in May, 1897, in North Dakota of parents from unknown birthplaces [ED 304, Sheet No. 1B, #60). In their later years, Bertha and Alvin were very close so the family gossip may not be true. In fact, it was Alvin who supplied death certificate information about Bertha.

The 1899 Clay County Plat Map shows an area south of Sabin with the name S. L. Johnson (obtained from the Homestead Records @ courtesy of the Clay County, MN Historical Society). This might be the family farm.

The 1900 Federal Census for Elmwood Township, Clay County, Minnesota, done June 2, 1900, lists Sever L. Johnson as the head of household. His birthdate is listed as April, 1853, and he is 47 years old. He has been married for 25 years. He was born in Wisconsin of parents born in Norway. He is a farmer, who can read, write, and speak English. He owns his own farm, although it is mortgaged, and it is #12 on the farm schedule. Listed with him are his wife, Bertha; their daughter, Teda E; their, son, Sylvester J; an adopted son, Elvin [sic] L.; a servant/farm laborer, Ole Swensrud, and a boarder, Albert L. McEvers, who is at school (ED 304, Sheet No. 1B, #56-62). Their older daughter, Dora, was not listed with the family and was probably living and teaching elsewhere.

On December 19, 1907, Sever Johnson died in an accident that left room for further speculation. As he was driving his horse-drawn wagon to a railroad crossing in Moorhead, he did not see a train approaching at 5:30 P.M. because of all of the railroad cars (Moorhead Independent, December 20, 1907). J. C. Bledsoe, the yardmaster, saw the Great Northern Number 11 pulling in from the east. Shouting a warning, he ran toward Sever, who thought the warning was for the train. He hurried his horses and was almost across the railroad tracks, when he realized he couldn't make it across. He tried to back up, but the locomotive killed one of the horses, seriously injured another horse, and smashed the wagon. Sever was thrown out of the wagon and hit his head. He was unconscious and taken to the hospital immediately (Moorhead Independent, December 26, 1907). Two days later he died after never regaining consciousness. An inquest was held into the matter. It was determined that the train was only traveling about sixteen miles per hour and that the engineer observed all of the requirements, such as blowing his whistle. The jury brought in a verdict that only reiterated the facts and cause of Sever's death, but did not attempt to fix responsibility (Moorhead Independent, December 27, 1907). Gordon Johnson always said that Sever, his grandfather, was drunk at the time of his death. Maybe he was, but his newspaper obituary indicated that Sever was "a strong advocate of temperance and practiced it through life" (Moorhead Independent, December 27, 1907).

Sever Johnson was buried in the Elmwood Cemetery, Clay County, Minnesota, where his gravestone incorrectly lists his birthyear as 1853, which was his brother's birthyear.

Thus, Sever Johnson was a man of contradictions. While he was a good family man, he also had children by other women. He worked hard to provide for his family. While he was a man who believed in temperance, it is thought that he was accidentally killed by a train after he had been drinking. Not a great deal is known about what he looked like because there are no photos of him. In addition, there is no one alive now who knew him. It is his contradictions that make him of interest in our family tree.

Family links: 
  Lewis K. Johnson (1823 - 1894)
  Dora Seversdatter Johnson (1820 - ____)
  Bertha Johnson (1850 - 1936)*
  Sever Johnson (1853 - 1907)
  John L. Johnson (1853 - 1908)*
*Calculated relationship
Elmwood Cemetery
Clay County
Minnesota, USA
Created by: Stephen Johnson
Record added: Feb 28, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 85942397
Sever Johnson
Added by: Uno
Sever Johnson
Added by: Uno
Sever Johnson
Cemetery Photo
Added by: Donna
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