We are sorry to have to report the death, aged 82, of our prolific author Mike Johnson. His MAA books on Native American peoples, illustrated by the late Richard Hook and latterly by Jonathan Smith, set new standards of scholarship. We reproduce here an obituary which has appeared in Whispering Wind magazine, a specialist publication to which he contributed many articles.

Michael G Johnson: Happy Trails!


Sunday 18th August 2019 saw the sad passing of a prominent figure in the field of Native American studies. Michael G. Johnson, 82, was a well-known writer, scholar, and collector, no doubt familiar to Whispering Wind readers for his numerous articles on many aspects of material culture from a wide range of different cultural areas, and much respected for his studies of the demographics of the indigenous Native North American nations. 

Born on 22nd April 1937 in the English West Midlands region, Mike settled in Walsall and worked for many years as a structural engineer. In his prime, he was a keen sportsman, enjoying cricket and also football (soccer). His engineering training and keen eye for detail were qualities he applied assiduously to his personal interest in the Native peoples of North America.

Throughout the 1970s, Mike served as an associate editor of American Indian Crafts & Culture magazine, and was a contributing writer in the pages of Whispering Wind, authoring articles on a wide range of topics, including Northeastern, Southeastern and Great Lakes traditional arts, his great passion. 

His impressive published achievements include The Native Tribes of North America: A Concise Encyclopedia (1992), which was greatly expanded to become the Encyclopedia of Native Tribes of North America (various editions of which were published in 1994, 1999, 2001 and 2007); Arts and Crafts of the Native American Tribes, Firefly Books (2011); Iroquois: People of the Longhouse, Firefly Books (2013); and Ojibwa: People of Forests and Prairies, Firefly Books (2016). In the Osprey Men-at-Arms series, the following titles: American Woodland Indians (1990); American Indians of the Southeast (1995); Tribes of the Great Sioux Nation(2000); Tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy (2003); Indian Tribes of the New England Frontier (2006); American Indians of the Great Lakes (2011); and American Indian Tribes of the Southwest (2013).

I first met Mike in my youth in the summer of 1969, and we maintained a long-standing friendship thereafter, meeting up regularly, as collectors tend to do, to share news, admire each other's latest beadwork finds, conduct many trades, and discuss all things relating to our mutual interest. In between visits, we would correspond avidly, many of his letters and (eventually) emails signed off with his customary greeting — "Happy Trails!" 

An intensely modest man, Mike was a loyal friend who would freely share the benefit of his expertise with anyone who asked for it. His scholarly opinion was always worth listening to. He corresponded with fellow students and academics in his field, and over the years organised numerous exhibitions and displays of Native material culture, including annual shows at the American Museum in Britain in Bath, Somerset.

Mike was devoted to Nancy, his wife of 55 years, as well as daughters Sarah and Polly and grandchildren Adam and Grace. Throughout his lifetime, together with Nancy, he visited many parts of the United States and Canada, very often hosted by his old friend, the late Sam Cahoon of New Jersey. His life was not without its challenges, however, especially with the loss of his daughter Sarah to cancer. 

Mike Johnson was a rare type of individual many of us would describe as a luminary, broadening our understanding of the rich and diverse indigenous cultures of the North American continent. Like so very many others, I certainly learned a great deal from Mike, and am thankful for his life, considerable achievements, and the many happy trails shared along the way.       

- Richard Green