by Jeremy Turner
Catherine Coon Johnson was born sometime around 1844-45 in Wyandotte Co., Kansas to Mary Nichols (Ja`hino) of the Deer Clan and John Isatouqe Coon (da`ta`Es) of the Porcupine Clan. She was born just after her parents had removed to Kansas from the old Wyandot Reserve at Upper Sandusky, Ohio, in 1843. Catherine was the youngest child of John and Mary. She had three older sisters: Francis, Mary and Hannah; and three older brothers: Jacob (Tondee), John Lewis and Adam.
Catherine’s father, John Coon, was the son of Abraham Kuhn (Tsizutoo`) who was also known as Capt. Kuhn in Colonial records, and the daughter of Duenquad (the Half King also known as Pomoacan). Abraham and Duenquad’s daughter had three children together, John Coon, Lewis Coon, and Nancy Coon.
Catherine’s aunt, Nancy Coon, and Nancy’s Seneca husband, Tall Fighter, were murdered along with Tall Fighter’s brother-in-law, Summundewat, in 1841 in Ohio. The murder of Summundewat and his family by a band of white settlers was one of the last straws that drove the Wyandots to decide to remove from Ohio to Kansas.
Catherine’s grandfather, Abraham Kuhn, was taken captive by the Wyandots as a young boy in eastern Pennsylvania sometime during the French and Indian War. Abraham was adopted into the Bear Clan. He became the War Captain of the Wyandotte/Seneca-Cayuga town of Lower Sandusky (modern day Freemont, Ohio). Capt. Kuhn along with his father-in-law, Duenquat, fought on the side of the British during the American Revolutionary War. Duenquat, the Half-King, became the head of the British-allied Indian confederacy in Ohio during the Revolutionary War. The confederacy was composed of the Wyandots, Delawares, Seneca-Cayugas, Shawnees, Miamis and Ottawas.
Catherine’s father, John Coon, was the blacksmith for the tribe while they lived on the Wyandot Reserve in Ohio. The Methodist Missionary, Rev. John Finley, mentions staying with John Coon’s family in 1820 when he first came to Upper Sandusky to spread the gospel. Catherine’s older sister, Mary Coon Osborne, remembers as a young girl that other Indians frequently stopped by to have her father mend their guns, axes, kettles, etc. She said they never paid in money but would trade meat and skins from wild game for the work he did. Often they would spend the night with them, stretched out in their blankets on the floor of the cabin in front of the fireplace.
Catherine’s mother, Mary Nichols, was born on the Wyandot Reserve in Ohio. Her mother, Kya`wenoo`, was a Wyandot of the Deer clan. Mary’s father, Isaac Nichols (TerEnoshuyuta), was a Cayuga of the Bear clan. Mary was the sister of Smith Nichols. The story that Catherine told to Barbeau about the Maple Tree and the woman was passed down to her by her grandmother, Nendushya. The meeting and vision of the woman in the tree had happened to her mother’s ancestors.
Catherine’s parents, John and Mary Coon, left Kansas and moved back to what had been the old Wyandot reserve in Wyandot County, Ohio, sometime before 1850. Her older sister, Mary Coon Osborne, lived next to them and helped to care for them. John Coon died sometime between 1850 and 1855 in Wyandot County, Ohio, and her mother, Mary Nichols Coon, married another Wyandot, Joseph Williams. Joseph Williams and Mary then moved to the Wyandot Reserve in Kansas. Joseph was well known as teller of traditional stories. Catherine told Dr. Barbeau that she had learned some of the stories she told him from her step-father, Joseph Williams.
Catherine Coon married Allen Johnson, Sr., of the Big Turtle clan sometime between 1855 and 1867. They had two children together, Allen Johnson, Jr., and Susie Johnson Wolfenbarger. On July 10, 1884, the Quaker Missionary, Jeremiah Hubbard, performed a marriage ceremony for Allen Johnson, Sr., and Catherine Coon Johnson. They had lived together for many years and had raised a family, all grown. Jeremiah Hubbard listed them in his book as both Wyandot Indians. He was well known as the marrying preacher.
Catherine’s son, Allen Johnson, Jr., was one of Dr. Barbeau’s interpreters. Catherine and her uncle, Smith Nichols, were the two most important informants for Dr. Barbeau. Catherine contributed 75 percent and Smith 13 percent, for a total of 88 percent of the stories and language collected by Dr. Barbeau in 1911-12.