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Boise’s Richard Z. Johnson helped shape Idaho for half a century

The R. Z. Johnson Law Office at 112 6th St. was built in 1885 mostly in the Greek Revival style.
The R. Z. Johnson Law Office at 112 6th St. was built in 1885 mostly in the Greek Revival style. Provided by Preservation Idaho’s Idaho Architecture Project

This column focuses mainly on business and investing, but I’d like to digress a little bit and talk about one of the other people who shaped the Treasure Valley.

My family legacy in the brokerage business, going back several generations, is well-documented. It turns out the maternal side of my family has several interesting legal and professional branches as well, with none more prominent than the Honorable Richard Z. Johnson.

Johnson was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1837, graduated from Yale University in 1859, and was admitted to the Territorial Bar in 1867. He moved to Silver City, Idaho, to open a law practice after a stint in the rough-and-tumble mining camp of Virginia City, Nev. He practiced mining and general law for 14 years before moving to Boise. His original law building remains today near the corner of 6th and Main streets in Downtown Boise. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

He was elected to the territorial Legislature for two terms in 1880 and 1882. He served as attorney general for the Idaho Territory and held that office when Idaho was admitted to statehood in 1890. He authored many statutes of the Idaho Code during this period.

Johnson’s first love and concern was student education and public schools. He authored the law creating the independent school district, ushered the Boise School Charter through the Legislature, and served as a school board member for 15 years.

The Idaho Daily Statesman wrote in 1913 upon the news of his death in Germany, “Mr. Johnson devoted much time to promotion of public affairs which he made a personal matter and prosecuted energetically.”

The Statesman goes on to say, “He defended a man on trial for murder who was his enemy.” The accused was cleared of the charge, but Johnson stated he was “proud of the fact that even my enemies employ me.”

Johnson succeeded in having a corrupt judge disbarred and referred to him as an “ignoramus,” and “considered that I was doing a public duty in exposing and undoing him.”

Those of us with deep Idaho roots are grateful to know about the many individuals who shaped our state and the Treasure Valley. Our challenge today is to step up to the high standards set by these remarkable men and women, and keep our state and Boise the gem we all know and love, through contributions of our time, treasure and talent.

Mark Daly is a partner in the Perpetua Group in Boise. 333-1433