When Robinson Johnston breathed his last 162 years ago on that battlefield at San Pasqual, CA, he had no idea
people would still be talking about his life, death - and the whereabout of his bones - today.
But I get ahead of myself.
Abraham Robinson Johnston died on December 6th, 1846 at the Battle of San Pasqual, CA. After the battle
orders were given to pack the bodies of the fallen on mules with the intention of carrying them to San Diego, but
not enough strong animals were left and so they were buried instead, as secretly as possible, at night for fear of
looters. The dead were placed under a willow tree to the east of camp. The howling of myriad wolves was the
only accompaniment to the burials.
In 1848, after the war ended, the bodies were removed to a cemetery in Old Town San Diego.
In the fall of 1849, orders were given to exhume Robinson's body from the cemetery. His father requested that he
be returned home to Upper Piqua, OH. After the usual delay in getting the request through the government's
channels, what was left of Robinson was sent in a box to San Francisco to a government warehouse.
On May 4th, 1849, there was yet another fire in San Francisco. Orders were given to remove the government
boxes from the warehouse to protect them. Robinson’s coffin box was still there, awaiting shipment, and had
supposedly been placed in another wooden box for safety which was marked ‘stove’ and had once held stove
parts. And there, as Shakespeare put it, is the rub.
But I digress again.
Robinson's body was shipped to New York on the Ship Supply at 10 a.m., Tuesday, July 22nd, 1851. The Supply
sailed for New York August 1, 1851. In the meantime John Johnston had started a long, sad journey from Upper
Piqua to meet and bring his son's bones home. All together the journey Robinson's remains took was over
13,000 miles long.
On April 15th, 1852 Robinson’s remains were interred at Johnston Cemetery, Upper Piqua, Ohio with full military
Or were they?
In the December 29th, 1852 issue of the San Francisco Herald there is a report of the discovery of a body in a box
found in the basement of a building. Several boxes bearing the label 'stove parts' had been purchased sight
unseen and just been opened the day before. The box was 3'.5" x app. 2’ wide, double, and of great thickness.
On one side were found nailed 3 pieces of board with an inscription in black ink laid on with a brush. It was
illegible. Quicklime had destroyed the flesh. The paper reported the man's head was ‘large and long’ and bore
hair of a 'yellowish brown’. A pair of boots held the bones of the feet. The boots were ‘very low in the heel’ with a
square toe and ordinary finish. Mention is made of sealing the box until the coroner could look at it and
determine if it was foul play, but this may not have happened. A second article, dated December 30th, 1852,
claims the mystery is solved, and that the bones are those of a young soldier who died at San Pasqual.
So the question is - is Robinson Johnston buried in the family cemetery in Piqua OH, or was the discovery of his
bones hushed up, and no attempt ever made to get him home? And if Robinson is not in his grave, then are
those flowers placed there in honor of a box of stove parts?
We have no answers. There are clues, but as with every mystery people are divided as to how to interpret them.
Some question the fact that a father would not have opened his son's casket. I don't. If the son who bid you
farewell was over 6' tall, and he was coming home in a 3' box, I wouldn't want to look. Some think stove parts
would have been too heavy. Surely the pall-bearers would have noticed. But these may have been army field
stove parts. A whole field stove only weighed 23 lbs. To me the coincidences are too many. I only wish the
coroner had done his work and we had the report. If the young man had a broken thigh bone, a hole in his foot
where the ball from a carbine had been driven through it, and missing toes, we would know for certain. As it is,
unless History's Mysteries takes an interest, we will probably never know.
Read an article on this mystery from a local Piqua paper