The following was written by Dick Spencer, publisher – The Western Horseman at the time it was written. The article is about a early day Appaloosa breeder and the longest serving Appaloosa Horse Club Director, Ben A. Johnson. Ben raised or owned some of the legends of the breed. Horses like Patchy, Patchy Jr., Patchy Jrs Shaun Tonga, My Ol Still, and many others who were National Champion Appaloosas. For those who don’t know, Dick Spencer’s father, Shatka Bear Step, designed, and made the Bear Step Katouch, which was an award presented to the Champion 2 year old Appaloosa Stallion and Ben won the award in 1954 with Patchy Jr.
Ben Johnson is a long-time good friend, and our friendship started through his good Appaloosa horses. Ben bred, trained, and showed national champion Appaloosas–in both halter and performance. He was born July 13, 1916, on a homestead 13 miles from Provost, Alberta, Canada: and, in order to retain their U.S. citizenship, the family returned to the United States in the early fall of 1918. They spent that fall on Ben’s grandfather’s ranch east of Lamar, Colorado, where Ben spent boyhood hours listening to old-time cowboys spin their yarns and tell of their experiences and the pranks they pulled on each other. Ben’s family moved from Lamar to Wiley, Colorado, and in 1928 moved to the Grand Junction area on the western slope of Colorado. Ben graduated from Appleton High School, where he lettered in sports, and then set out to see the country. He traveled to New York City, Washington D.C., the Everglades, New Orleans, Mexico and California — working at odd jobs along the way. He tried dishwashing, waiting tables, and even pickin’ cotton. During this time, however, he always carried a small set of carving tools and in his spare time he’d carve “mostly plaques”. In 1941, Ben married Dorothy Eastman and they settled down to raising cattle, Appaloosa Horses, and kids–which left no time for carving. George Phippen, moved to Grand Junction in 1958, saw a woodcarving or two of Ben’s, and gave him some clay and said “get to work, you’ve got talent”. Still no time for it, but the words stuck in the back of his mind. By 1973 the children were grown and married, Ben had curtailed his Appaloosa program, and so he dug out the clay George had given him and decided to see what he could do. He finally came up with a small piece he called “The Challenge”, and Ben took it to the Phippen Bronze Foundry at Prescott, Az. Ernie Phippen took one look at and said “cast it” An edition of 12 were cast, and all were soon sold out. Some western artists copy Charlie Russell, some research by talking to cowboys or reading about them, and some have lived the part. Ben belongs to those “boys that have been there.” He knows the west from the back of a good saddle horse, and lived the life himself. And he has been around long enough to have talked to many of the real old-timers. I mention that only because Ben hates to admit that he’s and old-timer himself!
I was lucky enough to have known Ben for better than 50 years. Ben died at his home on my ranch July 29, 2011. His legacy lives on in his art work and his horse breeding program.
Below is a slideshow of some of the art by Ben A Johnson. Hope you enjoy it. Ben was in his 60’s when he really had the time to devote to sculpture. Sort of the “Grandpa Moses” of Western Art Sculpture.