Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson

Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson

Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson

Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson

Synopsis

The movie Jeremiah Johnson introduced millions to the legendary mountain man, John Johnson. The real Johnson was a far cry from the Redford version. Standing 6'2" in his stocking feet and weighing nearly 250 pounds, he was a mountain man among mountain men, one of the toughest customers on the western frontier. As the story goes, one morning in 1847 Johnson returned to his Rocky Mountain trapper's cabin to find the remains of his murdered Indian wife and her unborn child. He vowed vengeance against an entire Indian tribe. Crow Killer tells of that one-man, decades-long war to avenge his beloved. Whether seen as a realistic glimpse of a long ago, fierce frontier world, or as a mythic retelling of the many tales spun around and by Johnson, Crow Killer is unforgettable. This new edition, redesigned for the first time, features an introduction by western frontier expert Nathan E. Bender and a glossary of Indian tribes.

Excerpt

This book, Crow Killer: the Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson (1958, 1969), is one of the most misunderstood yet influential books ever written in the genre of American Mountain Man folklore. Presented as a biography of John Johnston (his legal name), who became infamous on the frontier as John “Liver-Eating” Johnson (c. 1824–1900), the account is purportedly based on oral sources that made a lie of previous histories. Rather amazingly, historians and folklorists for decades uncritically accepted the spectacular story of a mountain man in the 1840s fighting a one-man war on the Crow Nation with his Hawken rifle and Bowie knife, routinely cutting out and eating the livers of his foes, in revenge for the murder of his bride and unborn child.

About the turn of the century, more-critical researchers realized the many historical shortcomings of the text. Examination of Raymond Thorp’s oral sources for his book finds his two main informants being the Wild West showman Doc Carver and White-Eye Anderson, one of Johnson’s former trapping partners. However, Bob Edgar of Old Trail Town, in Cody, Wyoming, where Johnson was reburied in 1974, informed me that his years of efforts to verify the Johnson folklore of his war on the Crows had led him to nothing but dead ends. Chief Joseph Medicine Crow, historian of the Crow Nation, maintains that the central story is fictitious, not supported by Crow oral history, and that Johnson had actually been a close friend of theirs with whom they often ate raw deer livers (Bender 2006a, 15). Several other of Thorp’s supposed oral accounts appear to be ultimately derived from widely reprinted newspaper articles of Johnson killing Sioux and Blackfeet. Dennis McLelland, in his 2008 . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.