Lizzie Johnson, the "Cattle Queen of Texas," was an early and highly successful investor in the Texas cattle business. After the Civil War, she rounded up stray cattle, branded them, and drove them north. She was one of the first women to drive cattle up the Chisholm Trail. An innovator in private life as well, Lizzie Johnson kept her business property separate from that of her husband. A worker in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, she also was a pioneer in prison reform. She died leaving diamonds hidden in her room and property all over Central Texas.
Written by Cynthia J. Beeman
Read by Spike Gillespie
Legendary Texas "Cattle Queen" Lizzie Johnson was a woman ahead of her time in many ways. Born in Missouri, she arrived in Texas with her parents in the 1840s. They settled in Hays County near Driftwood, where her family operated a school called the Johnson Institute. Lizzie taught school at the institute as well as at schools in Lockhart, Manor, and Austin. She also worked as a bookkeeper for several prominent cattlemen in Austin, and through that work came to realize a wise rancher could make substantial sums of money trading in cattle. She registered her own brand in 1871, and bought ten acres of land near Austin. She is said to be the first woman who traveled up the legendary Chisholm Trail with a herd of cattle.
In 1879, Lizzie married Hezekiah Williams, but before the wedding insisted on a prenuptial agreement that allowed her to keep her separate property. She and Williams continued to acquire ranchland, and their combined cattle operations grew. After her husband’s death in 1914, Lizzie became an eccentric recluse, living in an Austin apartment and appearing to the public to be both miserly and impoverished. At the time of her death in 1924, it was discovered she had almost a quarter million dollars, as well as extensive land holdings in five counties. Some reports even stated there were diamonds found hidden throughout the Texas Cattle Queen’s apartment.
Roberta S. Duncan, "WILLIAMS, ELIZABETH ELLEN JOHNSON [LIZZIE]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwixg).
Biography Source Information
Biographies are reprinted from the Foundation for Women’s Resources (now Women’s Resources), Dallas, Texas. They originally appeared in "From Gutsy Mavericks to Quiet Heroes: True Tales of Texas Women," video study guide, Austin: The Foundation for Women's Resources, 1997. Death dates have been added where needed.
Audio Source Information
Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.