Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird made their home at LBJ Ranch in the Texas Hill Country. While he was President, the house was known as the Texas White House.
“We are living in Lyndon Johnson’s America. This country is more the country of Lyndon Johnson than any other president.”Joseph A. Califano Jr., LBJ’s top domestic policy adviser, 1965-1973
Lyndon Johnson (LBJ), the 36th President of the United States, felt powerful impacts from his Texas upbringing. From his impoverished childhood, he learned the importance of hard work and helping others. He carried those lessons throughout his political career, culminating in the Presidency. While LBJ’s Presidential legacy is mixed, many of his programs still exist. His Great Society included civil rights protections, Medicare and Medicaid; food stamps; Head Start, consumer safety, and environmental regulations. Visit Lyndon Johnson at the Texas White House, his ranch in the Texas Hill Country.
Lyndon Johnson’s Texas ranch, the most insightful Presidential site
Because we collect Presidential sites, Eric and I were anxious to visit Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Site. Of all the Presidential sites we’ve visited, LBJ’s sites gave us the best look at the man wearing the awful responsibility of the President. Johnson could relax and be himself among the Texas White House’s live oaks.
What to do at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site
Start your visit at the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site, 199 Park Road 52, Stonewall, Texas. Pick up a map and free driving permit at the visitors center. You’ll need at least 2 hours. Get your tour tickets as soon as you can in case they sell out.
Before heading to the national historical park, take a little time to explore the nature trail. Nothing says Texas like longhorn cattle, and nothing says the American West than American bison. Watch for both along the trail. During the spring, wildflowers take center stage. Lady Bird Johnson, LBJ’s wife, especially loved wildflowers, so remember her when you see them.
Pass Head Start School and Trinity Lutheran Church on the way to the National Historical Park
As you head toward the national historical park, you’ll pass Head Start School and Trinity Lutheran Church. Both were significant to the Johnsons. LBJ signed legislation creating Head Start in 1965. Head Start boosts kindergarten readiness among low-income children. When the Johnsons were in residence at LBJ Ranch, they sometimes attended their neighboring church. The church holds services at 10:10 a.m. every Sunday.
See Junction School, where Johnson started his education
Education is the only passport from poverty.Lyndon Johnson
After visiting the state park, cross the Pedernales River (pronounced PERD-in-alice) and enter Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The first building you’ll pass is Junction School, one of Gillespie County’s 31 one-room schoolhouses. When LBJ was 4, he learned to read at this school. He wasn’t supposed to be at school yet, but he wouldn’t stay away.
Fearing that he would get lost, LBJ’s mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson, begged his teacher, Katie Deadrich, to enroll him early. He insisted that she should let him sit on her lap during reading lessons.
He returned 53 years later to sign the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. His teacher, Kate Deadrich Loney, sat beside him during the signing ceremony.
Visit Johnson’s birthplace on Lyndon Johnson Texas ranch
“Unless you understand the land and the family that Lyndon Johnson was from, it’s really hard to understand about the character of our 36th President.”the Rev. Billy Graham, “Pastor to the Presidents“
The next driving tour stop is LBJ’s Birthplace. LBJ’s grandfather Sam Ealy Johnson Sr. built the original house in 1889.
Sam Ealy Johnson Jr. brought his bride Rebekah Baines Johnson to this home in 1907. To welcome his bride, Ealy Jr. painted the house yellow. LBJ was born there on Aug. 27, 1908, followed by two daughters, Rebekah Luruth and Josefa Hermine. Hard times forced the Johnsons off the ranch. They left the farm and moved to Johnson City in 1913. Sam Houston and Lucia Huffman Johnson were born after the move.
The family tore down the original house in the 1940s. When LBJ became President, he decided to reconstruct the house on his Texas ranch. While planning, LBJ and his architect relied upon family photos and memories to reconstruct the home. They salvaged whatever they could from the original house. The house is the only birthplace that an incumbent President has rebuilt.
LBJ was born in a dogtrot house
The open breezeway in the house’s center was called a dogtrot. Dogtrot houses included a wide breezeway to increase ventilation in the hot, humid, long Southern summers. Many were elevated above their foundations to increase cooling breezes. The birthplace is elevated, but its crawl space is surrounded by lattice to retain ventilation while keeping out larger animals.
The house became a guest house when the Texas White House bedrooms were full. We pitied the people who stayed in the house during the winters or summers because the house lacks air conditioning (and heating). LBJ and his architect did add a kitchen, bathroom, running water, and electricity.
Tour the birthplace house
LBJ loved to escort guests through the house and reminisce about his life there. He said the only original piece of furniture is a holey rawhide bottom chair in the kitchen. Look for Lady Bird’s high chair in the kitchen. “Lady Bird” is etched on the back.
Some of the original timbers are on the inside south wall of the nursery room at the front of the house. Look for the clown dish on the dresser. It was LBJ’s Christmas gift to his Aunt Lucie. He gave it to her three weeks early, telling her, “It cost me a whole dime, and it’s worth every penny!”
LBJ was born in the west parlor/bedroom. Look for LBJ’s six-month baby picture on the wall. His proud father served in the Texas House of Representatives at that time. He printed 50 postcards of LBJ’s baby picture and sent one to every other House member.
The birthplace is wheelchair accessible. Ask for Braille or typed scripts at the visitor center. Bathrooms are available in the barn behind the birthplace house. Your next bathroom opportunity won’t come until you reach the airplane hangar.
Pay respects at the family cemetery on the Lyndon Johnson Texas ranch
“Here amidst these familiar hills and under these expansive skies and under these beautiful oak trees he loved so much, his earthly life has come a full circle.”Rev. Graham
The journey from LBJ’s birthplace to his final resting place is only a short distance. A short distance for a short life.
Lyndon Johnson crammed numerous achievements into his 64 years on earth. He rose from poverty on the Johnson Texas ranch to become a Congressional staffer to Senate Majority Leader, Vice-President, and President. He was in a hurry because the Johnson family men died young. In 1967, he commissioned a secret actuarial study on the Johnson family males. The study predicted that LBJ would die at age 64. The study was correct.
However, the study may have been self-fulfilling. After a near-fatal heart attack in 1955, LBJ quit his 60-cigarette-a-day smoking habit. At that time, the doctors told him that he would be committing suicide if he resumed smoking.
After he left the Presidency in January 1969, he started smoking again. When his family protested, he said he had missed smoking every day since he had quit, and it was his time to enjoy life.
When the retired President chauffeured guests around the ranch, he always stopped to visit the family graveyard. He’d tell guests that his parents were lying there, “and here’s where I’m gonna be, too.” He often visited the cemetery in the evening to sit on the stone wall and rest under the live oak trees.
He suffered another heart attack in 1972 and was in agony from cardiac and digestive problems for the next seven months.
LBJ’s last appearance
Harry S Truman, the 33rd President, died on Dec. 26, 1972. He was 88 years old. His funeral was held at the Harry S Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Mo. LBJ, Lady Bird, and their children attended. No one would see the 36th President in public again.
LBJ passes away
On Jan. 21, 1973, President Richard Nixon announced a cease-fire in Vietnam, an achievement that had eluded LBJ.
On the next day, Lady Bird noticed that her husband was quiet, but he seemed to be all right. She left for a shopping trip in Austin, Texas. That afternoon, the Secret Service called Lady Bird on a car phone. Lyndon Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, was gone.
His family laid him to rest on Jan. 25, 1973, a frigid morning. Graham conducted the service. During John F. Kennedy’s (JFK) funeral procession, his son JFK Jr. saluted his father’s casket. In an eerie echo of JFK’s funeral, LBJ’s grandson, Lyn Nugent, saluted his casket. Lyndon Johnson now rested on his Texas ranch.
Related: Follow the JFK assassination tour in North Texas.
That winter was rough on former Presidents.
After LBJ’s death, Lady Bird held annual wreath-laying ceremonies at LBJ’s grave. The tradition continues. Every year, on Aug. 27, LBJ’s birthday, the National Park Service and United States military place a wreath on LBJ’s grave. The ceremony is always held at 10 a.m. Lady Bird was buried next to LBJ on July 14, 2007.
Roxie’s reliable recommendation: The Johnson family has retained ownership of the cemetery. Please respect their wishes and remain outside the cemetery’s stone walls.
See LBJ’s grandparents’ home
The next stop after the graveyard is LBJ’s grandparents’ home. Samuel Ealy Johnson Sr. and Eliza (Bunton) Johnson lived in the house after moving from the Johnson Settlement in Johnson City.
Lyndon Johnson and his Texas ranch
“I guess every person feels a part of the place where he was born.”Lyndon Baines Johnson
There’s just something about a cattle rancher in Texas, and LBJ knew it. In 1951, Lyndon Johnson bought his aunt’s rundown Texas ranch and renamed it (what else?) LBJ Ranch. He took great pride in it and worked diligently to improve it. Descendants of LBJ’s Herefords still roam the ranch.
LBJ and Lady Bird donated part of the ranch to the National Park Service. When they donated the land, they stipulated that the ranch had to remain a working ranch, not “a sterile relic of the past.”
Lyndon Johnson loved Texas ranch cattle. If you enjoy cattle and are visiting the barn, talk cattle with the cowboys who tend the LBJ Ranch herd.
Lyndon Johnson, the Texas ranch, and Air Force One-Half
“This [JetStar] flew like a sportscar.”Presidential pilot Jim Cross
In 1962, LBJ became the first Vice-President to be assigned a plane. He chose the Lockheed JetStar and picked Air Force pilot Jim Cross as his primary pilot.
When LBJ became President, he intended to spend a great deal of time at his ranch. And he did. Lyndon Johnson spent 25 percent of his Presidency at his Texas ranch. Inevitably, the ranch became known as the Texas White House. Because he spent so much time at the Texas White House, he wanted to fly straight there. But the ranch’s 6,291-foot runway was not long enough for the usual Air Force One, a Boeing 707. The 707 requires nearly 11,000 feet of runway. For the commute between White Houses, LBJ went back to his trusty JetStar. Since the JetStar was small compared to the 707, it got the nickname Air Force One-Half. (Air Force One is always the call sign for whatever plane the President is in.)
Air Force One-Half comes home to the Lyndon Johnson Texas ranch
Long after LBJ had retired, Cross found one of LBJ’s JetStars on an Air Force base. LBJ National Historical Park Superintendent Russ Whitlock tried to get that plane for the park but had no luck. Six months later, the Air Force found another of LBJ’s JetStars in a military boneyard. A company in Arizona restored the plane, then disassembled it for a cross-country trip. During its 2 1/2 days on the road, people flocked to see it. When the caravan carrying it arrived, Cross was on the LBJ Ranch tarmac to greet the plane.
How to visit the Texas White House
“All the world is welcome here.”LBJ
The JetStar’s hangar is the Texas White House’s visitors center. Usually, you would buy your ticket to tour the house in the hangar. (Children 17 and under are admitted free.) The tickets are only good for the specific date and time listed on the ticket. Unfortunately, as of February 2020, the house and the Pool House both need structural repairs. Until repairs are complete, the park rangers offer only free tours of the grounds.
When the buildings reopen, tours will start at 10 a.m. daily. The final tour begins at 4:30 p.m. However, do not wait until 4:30 p.m. to seek tickets. The 30-minute tours are limited to 12 people and are available only on a first-come, first-served basis. Especially during spring, holidays, and weekends, the tickets sell out. Expect to wait half an hour for your tour, but the hangar offers plenty to do. Fourteen minutes of your time will go by in a flash while you watch the visitors center’s movie. After the movie, look around the hangar. Take a selfie at the Presidential podium. Enjoy looking at the souvenirs LBJ collected. Take home an LBJ souvenir from the hangar’s gift shop.
Imagine riding with Luci in her Corvette
Stroll the grounds and view Luci Baines Johnson’s Corvette, her 18th birthday gift from her father. Imagine how much fun she had in that car, loud music pumping from the radio and her hair streaming behind her. Being the President’s younger daughter did have a major drawback. Having a Secret Service agent in the passenger seat put a damper on some of her fun.
Lyndon Johnson, the Texas ranch prankster
LBJ enjoyed pranking on people. When the Johnsons were in Texas, and the weather was mild, anything might happen at the ranch. LBJ enjoyed driving people around his ranch, usually in one of his Lincolns. But the rides were not always in a Lincoln. LBJ had a trick car. The original LBJ Ranch entrance was across a low-water crossing. When the Pedernales River was high, the crossing was hidden. With the bridge hidden, guests were prime candidates for a prank. LBJ got out his German Amphicar.
Califano told one such story: The President, with Vicky McCammon [LBJ’s secretary] in the seat alongside him and me in the back, was now driving around in a small blue car with the top down. We reached a steep incline at the edge of the lake, and the car started rolling rapidly toward the water.
The President shouted, “The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!” The car splashed into the water. I started to get out. Just then, the car leveled, and I realized we were in an Amphicar.
The President laughed. As we putted along the lake then (and throughout the evening), he teased me. “Vicky, did you see what Joe did? He didn’t give a damn about his President. He just wanted to save his own skin and get out of the car.” Then he’d roar.
Yes, life around LBJ was never dull.
Take a digital tour of the Lyndon Johnson Texas ranch
Before you arrive at LBJ Ranch, you can learn from the most knowledgable tour guide, The First Lady. Watch Lady Bird’s tour of the house, with a cameo appearance from her husband.
Signatures and live oak trees on the Texas White House grounds
Besides Luci’s vintage Corvette, I love two things about the grounds: the friendship stones and the live oaks.
Lyndon Johnson and astronauts in cement
LBJ didn’t like paper guestbooks. Instead, he used cement. When famous people came to the ranch, LBJ and Lady Bird asked them to sign fresh cement paving stones — friendship stones — to remember their visit. World leaders, Congressional and Cabinet members, astronauts, and actors signed the 12-inch-square blocks. The originals are kept in storage, but the more famous signatures have been duplicated and are on display. Guess which signatures attracted me. To a child born in the 1960s, who could be more glamorous than an astronaut?
Lyndon Johnson doing the nation’s business under the live oaks
If our climate were not an issue, I would have two more tree species in our lawn live oak and magnolia. We envied the Texas White House live oaks. Their long, low, graceful branches called out to us. They said, “Sit here and rest a spell. Drink some (unsweetened) tea.” Unfortunately for us, those beautiful trees are not coming to our lawn. Live oaks don’t grow north of Texas.
The Johnsons repeatedly used their lawn for meetings and state dinners. With all those gorgeous live oaks and the views of the Pedernales, why wouldn’t they? LBJ loved to entertain, and the ranch was his favorite place to bring guests. The ranch’s relaxing, intimate feel helped people to unwind and feel at home.
LBJ Ranch’s barbecues were famous. The Hahne (rhymes with “Donny”) family served thousands of plates filled with chicken, beef, cabrito (goat meat), venison, wild and domesticated turkey. They didn’t serve brisket; they served steak—thick steak, 1 3/4 to 2 1/2 inches thick.
The Hahnes planted large peach orchards and served the Johnsons peach dishes. The Johnsons loved those peaches.
Life at the Johnson Settlement
“It was once a barren land. The angular hills were covered with scrub cedar and a few live oaks. Little would grow in the harsh caliche soil. And each spring the Pedernales River would flood the valley. But men came and worked and endured and built.”LBJ, talking about frontier life along the Pedernales
LBJ Ranch is only part of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The park’s Johnson City District lies 14 miles east of LBJ Ranch on Highway 290. First, visit the visitors center at 100 Ladybird Lane in Johnson City. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. An easy one-mile round trip walk will take visitors into the settlement. The trail winds past LBJ’s Boyhood Home, where he lived from age 5 until age 26 when he married Lady Bird.
LBJ has been called the last frontier President since he grew up without running water or power. Yet LBJ was one of the drivers behind the Space Age. As Vice-President, he chaired the National Aeronautical and Space Administration Council. The council explored how to send a man to the moon.
From a dirt floor to putting a man on the moon: You came a long way, Lyndon Johnson.
Related: Lady Bird championed Texas wildflowers.
Ride ’em, Texas cowboy!
Johnson Settlement is a return to Texas cowboy days. The Johnson Settlement on Johnson City’s west edge is a pure Texas cowboy experience. It also gives you a chance to experience life in what feels like a Western movie set. Texas longhorns graze in the settlement. Their presence is appropriate because LBJ’s grandfather Sam Ealy Johnson Sr. and his uncle Jesse Thomas (Tom) were cowboys.
The brothers built a one-room log cabin in the late 1850s. After they both served in the Civil War, Sam married Eliza Bunton in 1867. The next year, the brothers drove cattle north on the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kan. Sometimes Eliza joined them on their annual trips. They continued driving cattle north, making huge profits. In 1870, they returned with a $100,000 profit, worth $1,969,244.27 in 2020.
The Johnsons thought the cattle boom would continue. Because of their confidence in the economy, they borrowed heavily to assemble more drives. Sadly, their confidence was misplaced. As commodity markets tend to do, the market collapsed. The collapse financially ruined the Johnson brothers. In 1871, they dissolved their partnership, and both of them moved away.
After LBJ left office, he donated funds to buy the settlement. The National Park Service made the purchase. Four of the original buildings were extant, Sam and Eliza Johnson’s cabin, James Polk Johnson’s barn and cooler house, and John Buckner’s 1884 barn.
How to visit the Johnson Settlement and LBJ’s Boyhood Home
Visitors may tour the settlement from 9 a.m. until sunset daily. Allow 45 minutes. Boyhood Home tours are available during the summer from Thursday to Monday at 10 and 11 a.m., 1, 2, 3, and 4 p.m.
After you visit Lyndon Johnson’s parks, you’ll have a greater appreciation for the driven, complicated, and compassionate man who was our 36th President.
Related: Follow the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, as he visited Kansas in 1859.
More to explore
Read more about Southern travel, Texas travel, and more about the Texas Hill Country. Visit our national parks.