Burton Saucier of New Orleans (far right) holds an old portrait of a Johnson Family ancestor while family members (from left) Peter Roy, Sylvia Saucier Roy, Nettie Johnson Jans and Sue Johnson hold a sword carried in the Civil War by Col. William Wilson Johnson. The Johnson-Saucier family is trying to identify the man in the portrait. {Photo by Tiffany Trichell}

Johnson-Saucier family tries to identify man in portrait

The descendants of Civil War Col. W. W. Johnson of Johnson Settlment north of Marksville on Red River have his sword, and maybe his portrait.

When someone jokes that a person “must have a portrait hidden in the attic,” it usually means they don’t look their age. Unlike the famous "Portrait of Dorian Gray," the portrait found in the attic of the Johnson family home in Bluetown wasn’t growing older while the owner stayed looking young.

Instead, the portrait of a distinguished-looking bearded man just got older and was forgotten until the new owners of the house found it crammed between the joists of the attic.

“They knew the person in the portrait did not belong to their family,” Burton Saucier said. “They took it to the closest relative of our family, who lived across the street, to see if she knew who it was.”

Saucier lives in New Orleans and is essentially the family historian. He was recently in town visiting family, Nettie Johnson Jans and Sue Johnson of Evergreen and Sylvia Saucier Roy of Marksville.

His grandparents, Emile Louis Saucier and Susie Johnson Saucier were from Marksville. The house was his grandmother’s home.

For the past 20 years or so, Saucier and other family members have puzzled over the portrait, trying to determine who the man is and how the work came to be discarded in the attic.

“We took the portrait to a family reunion in Moncla, but nobody could positively identify the man in the portrait,” he said. “It is a family mystery.”

Saucier’s favorite theory is that the man is Confederate Army Col. William Wilson Johnson, who served as provost marshal of this area during the Civil War and commanded a unit called Johnson’s Special Battalion during the war.

Saucier said he bases that theory on the style of suit the man is wearing and his apparent age at the time the portrait was painted.

Johnson was 61 years old when he died in 1879. If Saucier is correct, he believes the portrait was probably painted around 1875.

Another possibility is that the man in the portrait is Frank Johnson, Col. Johnson’s son by a second wife, whom he married just after the Civil War.

If the portrait was painted in the 1920s, Frank Johnson would have been in his 50s -- the same age that his father would have been if the portrait is of the former CSA officer.

Saucier said the clothing “is definitely 19th Century,” so it couldn’t be “Uncle Frank.”

The Johnson home burned in 1923 and Col. Johnson’s sword was found in the ashes. Saucier has mounted the blade, but the hilt and scabbard were destroyed.

The house was rebuilt in 1924.

That means the portrait had to be brought into the house after that time.

“In addition, there is no inside staircase to the attic,” Saucier said. “Someone had to bring a 12-foot ladder into the house, climb up and put this portrait in the attic. It could not have gotten there by accident.”

Saucier said anyone with information that might help solve the mystery can call him at 813-546-4630.

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