Skip to main content

Johnson, Jimmy, 1879-1942

 Person

Dates

  • Existence: 1879 - 1942

James E. “Jimmy” (sometimes spelled "Jimmie") Johnson was born June 6, 1879, the son of Adis Tousey, a Stockbridge - Munsee Indian, in Edgerton, Wisconsin.  In 1899, Johnson entered the Carlisle Indian Industrial School of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  A federally-funded institution, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School took Native American children off their reservations and gave them a  traditional Euro-American education.  Carlisle matriculated “Indians” from the entire North American continent, including Eskimos and Puerto Ricans. The school operated between 1879 and 1918.

At Carlisle, Johnson joined the school's renowned football team as a quarterback and developed a style of play based on speed and “instinctive buoyancy.”  Under the direction of Carlisle’s legendary coach, Glenn “Pop” Warner, Johnson and his teammates regularly excelled in competition against the powerful football programs of the era such as the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and Yale.  During the 1903 season, in a game at Harvard, the Indians found themselves evenly matched against the heavily-favored Crimson.  Carlisle’s team speed and large playbook had Harvard challenged before a crowd of 15,000 spectators. To start the game’s second half, Johnson executed a one of the most memorable scoring plays in the history of early football.  After receiving the kickoff, he quickly tucked the football inside the back of teammate Charles Dillon’s jersey.  Johnson began a run while holding an imaginary ball.  When the Harvard defenders pulled him to the ground, they found that Johnson did not hold the football.  In the meantime, Dillon had breached the goal line. But Dillon first had to touch the ball to the field in order for the score to count and had trouble reaching the ball still positioned up the back of his jersey.  With Harvard players confused over what had occurred, Johnson ran to Dillon, removed the hidden ball, and touched it to the field for a score.  Harvard complained of foul play, contemporary rules were mute on the subject of a hidden ball, and Carlisle took the lead.  Harvard later rallied to win the game 12 to 11, but Carlisle’s trick play made the headlines and became a football legend.

In that same season, the Carlisle team headed west to Chicago to face an undefeated Northwestern University squad coached by Walter McCornack.  Johnson dominated play and he and his teammates crushed the Purple 28 to 0 on a snowy Thanksgiving Day. That season, Johnson would be named to Walter Camp’s All-American Football Team.

After graduation from Carlisle, Johnson was eligible to continue his playing career as a graduate student at another school. While close to choosing Harvard as a destination, Johnson instead elected to enter the Dental School at Northwestern University, joining the same football squad he had recently defeated. In his career at Northwestern, Johnson played for Northwestern in 1904 and 1905, ending his football career with an injury in the game against Minnesota.

Johnson took a D.D.S. degree from Northwestern in 1907 and returned to the Carlisle squad as an assistant to Coach Warner. There, he helped recognize and develop the talents of Jim Thorpe, who subsequently became known as one of the world’s greatest athletes.  After practicing dentistry briefly back in Chicago, Johnson and his wife, Florence Welch, an Oneida Indian from Wisconsin and also a Carlisle graduate, moved to Puerto Rico. Johnson set up a successful dentistry practice in San Juan.  Johnson died January 19, 1942, at Rochester, Minnesota, and was buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago.  In 1969, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

James E. "Jimmy" Johnson (1879-1942) Scrapbooks and Miscellanea

 Collection
Identifier: 31/6/134
Abstract Two scrapbooks and additional clippings/biographical information document James E. "Jimmy" Johnson's education at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and at Northwestern University, as well as his football career at both schools.
Dates: 1890-1911, 1942-2012