called the man who founded Marble
Falls “Stovepipe” because of a sneaky trick he pulled off as a
Confederate commander in the Civil War. The town he founded was called
Blind Man’s Town because he was blind when he laid out the streets
of the town by memory.
| Adam “Stovepipe”
Rankin Johnson came to Texas from Kentucky
in 1854, at age 20, and settled in Hamilton Valley in Burnet County
but he rambled far and wide. A surveyor by trade, he surveyed much
of West Texas before any
vestiges of civilization had arrived there. He ranged from Buffalo
Gap in today’s Taylor County and ventured west of the Pecos
River long before Judge
Roy Bean instituted his peculiar brand of law and order in the
region. He transported goods and animals to isolated Butterfield Overland
Johnson first saw his future home in 1854 when he rode down the Colorado
River from Fort Mason
to see the “great falls” which were also called the “marble falls.”
The falls, which are covered now by the waters of Lake
Marble Falls, are located just upriver from the present U.S. Highway
281 bridge in Marble
Falls and can occasionally still be seen when the Lower Colorado
River Authority lowers the water level for repairs.
As Burnet County’s first surveyor, Johnson became intrigued by the
idea of harnessing the power of the Colorado to power mills and factories.
He thought Shirley Shoals, west of Burnet,
was a perfect site but the Civil War started before Johnson could
act on the notion. He married Josephine Eastland in 1861 then went
back to Kentucky and signed up as a scout under General Nathan Bedford
Forrest. He rose through the ranks to become a brigadier general.
He gained the nickname “Stovepipe” when his group of 12 captured Newburgh,
Indiana from a much larger Union force by mounting two stovepipes
on wagon wheels to make the Union troops think they would be going
to be up against some heavy artillery. In 1864, Johnson led a charge
against Union soldiers in Kentucky and was accidentally shot by one
of his own men. Such was the nature of the Civil War that his soldiers
decided to leave Johnson on the battlefield in hopes that Union surgeons
would be able to save his life. They saved his life but not his vision.
Several southern newspapers actually ran his obituary 58 years too
Back in Marble
Falls, Johnson opened a land office and a home he called Airy
Mount that still stands today. He had his young son drive him in a
buggy to various spots to conduct business, guided by memory and a
private vision of what the new town would look like. He obtained financing
for a cotton operation and laid
out a water system and a hydraulic power plant; as was the case with
most things built on Central Texas rivers in those days, it was washed
away by a flood.
Johnson set about having the plant rebuilt, this time utilizing tapered
granite walls, but the project was never completed. A dam was built
in 1925 to supply electrical power to the Marble Falls Textile Mill
Company. In 1951, The Max
Starcke Dam was built to form Lake
Johnson also founded the Texas Mining Improvement Company and by granting
a seven-mile right-of-wayand $700 he obtained the railroad that hauled
granite from Granite Mountain for the new State Capitol building in
Austin. He died at Burnet
in 1922. His funeral services were held in the Senate Chamber of the
state capitol and he was buried in the State
One of Johnson’s son became known as Adam Rankin Johnson, Sr. but
was called Tex Johnson when he pitched in baseball’s major leagues
in 1914 and 1915 and again in 1918. He also played with the Chicago
Whales and Baltimore Terrapins of the old Federal League.
Though technically he should have been called Adam Rankin Johnson,
Jr., that name was given to his son, who was born in Arizona (probably
during spring training) but spent most of his formative years in the
area. He made a career of baseball, eventually becoming president
of the Eastern League.
As for Marble
Falls, it grew and prospered and is today a popular Hill
Country recreation spot. We have to think that the blind man would
be proud of his town if he could see it now.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
July 21, 2010 Column