Lizzie Johnson

1601 Navasota St Austin

Austin History Center
Written By Austin History Center

The Austin History Center's mission is to procure, preserve, present and provide the historical records that make up Austin's unique story.

Oakwood Cemetery is Austin's oldest cemetery, and not surprisingly it's rich with Austin's history. According to the plaque at the entrance, "here lie the mortal remains of many pioneers and builders of Austin", including cattle queen Lizzie Johnson.

Legendary “Cattle Queen” Lizzie Johnson started her career as a schoolteacher and worked as a bookkeeper for the top cattle traders in Austin to supplement her earnings. When she saw the sums of money involved, she started listening to the cattlemen’s quarrels with a more curious ear. In 1871 she used her income to buy ten acres of land just outside of Austin, which is where her journey indeed began.This bookkeeper turned cowboy was the first woman to make the two-month journey up Chisholm Trail with her herd of cattle. She kept growing her business -- acquiring land and cattle -- and married in 1879, but not without insisting on a prenup.

Lizzie dedicated her life to a trade Texans know well. Ranching and trading cattle is a daily battle against cattle, the economy, and the elements. 

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Her adventures with her husband could fill books -- and do indeed fill a few. When he went to negotiate a land deal, Lizzie's husband was kidnapped and ransomed. She paid $50,000 for his return. 

In 1914, her husband passed on, and Lizzie returned to Austin to live by herself in a tiny apartment. While many assumed this woman’s legacy must have ended in poverty, they discovered diamonds hidden throughout her apartment at the time of her death. The apartment also contained grants of land in five counties and bank statements reflecting a balance of over $250,000 (worth roughly $3.5 million today). As it turns out, she owned the building where she kept a small apartment, she still owned cattle...and she owned land as far off as Cuba.  

Although she was rich in coin, she was considered a miser in her final years. Apparently, without her husband, she found very few things worth spending money on. She tucked herself away and died alone. But her legacy lives on in the cattle trade.

Cover photo credit biqpawl via Instagram.

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