William B. Johnson began his career in the military, enlisting in an Iowa battalion of the U.S. Army during the Civil War. He was part of General Sherman’s March to the Sea and was wounded twice. He continued his army career when the war ended, serving as a scout and wagon master protecting Union Pacific Railroad construction and settlers in Nebraska and Kansas.
Captain Johnson left the military to become a deputy U.S. Marshal in Indian Territory and later a sheriff in both Wheeler and Valley Counties, Nebraska. In Osceola, Iowa, north of Kansas, he was under-sheriff and a city marshal. In 1887, he arrived in California, working as a detective in Los Angeles and dealing in real estate.
In 1892, Johnson moved east and started the San Jacinto and Strawberry Valley (Idyllwild) Stage. He invested in gold bearing property near Idyllwild and after Riverside County was formed in 1893, was elected the county’s second sheriff, defeating Sheriff Fred Swope. He moved to Winchester after the election and in addition to his legal duties, he set up a mercantile store.
Two years later, he moved to Riverside and took the office of the city’s first chief of police. He was active in the community and was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic Lodge, Post 118. He was still in office when he died in 1908, the outcome of an accident with his service pistol.
William and his wife, Sarah Frances, had four children. One of them, son William A. Johnson, rose to prominence in the business community, owning a variety of companies including Hall-Johnson; American Pipe Johnson, Inc.; and Johnson Western Constructors which built runways at March Air Force Base and Seattle-Tacoma Airport as well as water pipelines across the L.A. Harbor. William Arthur Johnson was president of Citizens National Trust and Savings Bank and president of Sun Gold, Inc., which, before his death in 1956, built 780 homes in the Magnolia Center area in two neighborhoods called the Sun Gold Terrace Tracts. These tracts are nicknamed the “Mountain Streets” and the “Cowboy Streets.”