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Winchester Deluxe Model 1876 that belonged to John “Liver Eating” Johnson.

The boundaries of fact and fiction regarding the life and times of John “Liver Eating” Johnson have blurred, creating the ultimate mountain man legend immortalized in pulp fiction and the character of “Jeremiah Johnson” in the 1972 film starring Robert Redford.

He was born John Garrison but changed his name to John Johnston after deserting from the U.S. Navy around the time of the Mexican-American War. When spelling his name period newspapers often dropped the T, so he became John Johnson.

Much of his life was spent in Montana and Wyoming, trapping. He was the town marshal of Telluride (To-hell-you-ride) Colorado during it’s rougher years. His final days, however, were in a veteran’s home in a small California town. A campaign led by twenty-five 7th graders in the 1970s resulted in his remains at a California cemetery to be relocated to a gravesite in Cody, Wyoming.

The story behind the nickname “Liver Eating” is perhaps best summarized by a contemporary writer: “They killed his wife and burned down his house; then Liver Eating Johnson hunted them down and ate them.” In 1847, his pregnant wife, a member of the Flathead American Indian tribe, was brutally murdered by a raiding party of Crow Indians. The death of his wife set Johnson on a vengeance campaign against the Crow. By some accounts Johnson killed 300 Crow Indians. From those he killed he devoured their livers. The eating of the liver was an insult to the Crow who believed the liver as vital for the deceased to make it to the afterlife. By removing and eating the liver, Johnson was denying his Crow victims peace in death.

He was not a man to be insulted or wronged, nor a man to have hands laid on him without recourse. At 6’5″ and somewhere around 300 lbs., he was said to be a handful in a fight, and unruly when liquored up.

 

DRJIM, the Older Years?

65 COMMENTS

  1. Well, to tie in with your ‘All The World’s full of Barbarians’ post a few posts back, sometimes the scariest thing in the world to a ‘barbarian’ is a ‘civilized’ man. Barbs can try to act ‘civilized’ but a civilized man can out-barb a barb any day.

    Had a discussion with one of my friends who is a known expert on all things Mongolian and he was describing some of the tortures used by Ghenghis’ Horde, and I shocked him by the tortures and execution methods ‘common’ in ‘civilized’ Europe at the time.

    Want barbs to respect you? Outbarb the barb. Simple as that.

    Barbs don’t respect niceness. Eating the livers? That’s out-barbing the barbs.

    And the whole story? Yet another great example of how the myth of the peaceful, ecologically sound Native American is just that. A myth. One professor I had in school, a noted expert on pre-contact native culture, said the only reason white Europeans got a toe-hold on the continent was that there was a massive ‘world war’ between all the tribes on the continent that started a couple hundred years earlier (due to, among other things, climate change screwing up and drying up many formerly fertile areas and just messing everything up.)

    • There were also the plagues brought by the first settlers from Europe that swept across North America. It’s difficult to over-estimate the impact of small pox, measles, chicken pox, respiratory diseases, etc. on a population with no natural immunity.

      The Late Bronze Age Collapse in the “known world” caused by climate, migrations and so forth, was a transition period in the Near East, Anatolia, the Aegean region, North Africa, the Caucasus, the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, was violent, sudden, and culturally disruptive. These events triggered mass migration of people, usually toward the west. The history of the British Isles is a history of “the end of the road” in migration. The Britians, the Celts, the Franks, the Saxons, the Norse, all were pushed to uproot and move. Often they were pushed by other “barbarians”. Imagine their surprise when the Romans arrived. Actually not that much of a surprise, because the locals were waiting for them.

        • There is no doubt that European plagues contributed to the advancement of Europeans especially when they did things like trading smallpox contaminated blankets. However there is research that suggests that some populations were already falling precipitously from climate change before Europeans arived. Perhaps hunger and such made these populations even more succeptable to the new diseases.

        • Retired Cop – and bar-b-cueing steaks, and running lawn mowers, and all of those things. Exactly.

          Of course when you study the geological history of Earth, tree rings, etc, you find out that the climate has changed at least yearly in small increments since Day One. Progs don’t bother to do the research. They’re in it for the taxes. And there are people who are F-ing stupid enough to believe that if they pay more taxes, the climate will remain the same forever.

          • Howard- Some tribes had buffalo – an endless supply of protein. Massive fires on the Great Plains every summer led to renewed grasslands (and pumped millions or billions of tons of carbon into the air). Studies show that there are more trees now than when Europeans arrived, primarily because that annual burning stopped with cultivation.

      • If were politically advantageous to do so the Left would rewrite history to show that every single death by Euro-Plagues were from COVID! {[:-)

        (9.5k-12k is the actual range of true Covid deaths, not 200k.)

        • The projection was that 2 million would die of the Chinese Plague. Even accepting the 200K number, which I don’t, President Trump saved 1.8 million Americans from dying. It’s all in how you spin the numbers.

          Assuming 200k, subtract all patients who would have died from a fatal pre-existing illness within 12 months. In Arizona, many people on the Rez died, but the vast number had chronic lung illness and the virus was very tough on them. Based on what I’ve heard, the people who died on the Rez had heart disease, liver disease, lung disease and kidney disease. And yes, you add the plague and a tipping point was reached. I expect that many of the deaths in NY and NJ were in that same category. ANY respiratory virus could have finished them.

  2. Gonna embroider this on a pillow –

    Here’s some serious advice: even the nicest people have their limits. Don’t try to reach that limit because the nicest people are the scariest assholes when they have had enough.

    • As Beans suggests (above), it’s easier for a civilized person to transition to a barbarian than the other way around – to your point as well.

      • We have [reached our limit, and the one behind that one].

        I generally have a long fuse and am good-natured, but will likely launch on the moron who gets in my face about our current state of idiocy (masks, Trump, or anything else being made political that otherwise would be in the background and significantly benign to everyday life). I’m going to town, the one south, no other choice…into the fray as it were. The flashy PSA sign at the border just north of me states masks are required in all public spaces as edict-ed by the county health director (who should know better). Freely admit I’m slightly anxious with local gov’t tyranny running roughshod over constitutional freedoms for a political ruse and a complicit populace who believe they are my personal compliance oversight committee.

      • The donkeys don’t believe that you or Camperfixer have a limit, Ed. They think that they can endlessly push and that the sheep will bend the knee. None of them read history.

        • Went to pick up my new firearm, transferred from another state…was twice asked about not wearing a mask (one was “You won’t put a mask on for me?”, which said it all). Was polite but said “not happening as masks do nothing.” Finished the paperwork and paid. No one else around.

          Find out in Colorado there is 19 hour waiting period (what happened to15 minute computerized BG checks?), so I get to go into town again tomorrow. Great. Should be interesting…maybe have him meet me in the parking lot so he can feel safe.

          I’ve reached my B.S. limit…society has gone beyond stupid, and that can’t be easily fixed.

  3. According to the Wikipedia article Jeremiah Johnson was originally supposed to star first Lee Marvin, then Clint Eastwood with Sam Peckinpah directing. That may have been interesting. Still I thought the film turned out pretty well but then I tend to like John Milius’ work.
    One of the regulars at the range is a gentleman with a collection of shootable late 19th century long arms. One is a Model 1876 Winchester in .45-60 which he allowed me to try. I found it to be very pleasant to shoot though I wouldn’t want to carry it all day.

    • Lee Marvin would have done the role justice as Clint Eastwood did. None of them nor is Robert Redford a large man. Johnson was built like a mountain.

  4. any time i hear that bs about native americans being stewards of the land i direct them to the nearest rez. ….yep, think a lot of livereating is about to set forth.

    • There! Right there, you got it. I truly did not understand what was going on until I and a co-worker drove out to the rez to visit the casino. More than one of the locals cautioned us not to stay out there after dark, and a local friend cautioned me to take a rifle with me.

      He was right.

    • To some extent, they were stewards of the land — stewards to modify the land to best support them. Definitely not in some theoretical/mystical Gaia sense, though. They conducted large-scale burns every year in order to create/maintain grasslands and clearings (forests don’t support herds of game animals, though deer do like to lie up in them). Evidence: any early colonial writings regarding the land and Indians. Park-like forests with little underbrush, extensive areas under cultivation or recently under cultivation before Old World diseases reduced their numbers by the reciprocal of decimation — 90% (decimation means killing off 10%). Not just a virgin population to those diseases, but a population with a limited immune response due to the rather small numbers of ancestors that made it to the Americas. Naturally sparked fires were common, but when they weren’t enough, the American Indians lit off enough others to keep the brush down, burn off dead trees and prevent fuel buildup, and also just to help kill off the pestiferous bloodsucking insects. Burning grasslands encouraged and stimulated new growth, discouraged trees, and encouraged the buffalo (especially), and not just west of the Mississippi, but all the way into New York. The woods buffalo was highly desirable.

    • Although, once the natives had gone beyond copper and left the Neolithic, you can be damned sure they’d have eventually become as destructive of their environment as an Europeans or Middle Easterners became as they entered the Bronze and Iron Ages. They were on the brink of that in Mexico and the Andes when the conquistadors took over. Some copper tools, and possibly even a sort of natural bronze.

  5. Around here we have Jack Slade…similar character to JJ, and the legend is always more embellished to make the story “fuller” for the dime store novels.

    • I’ve heard of Jack Slade – and Paul Bunion, but in the case of Johnson, there’s a lot of documentation, first hand interviews of Bill Cue and men who ran with him. I realize that oral history is flawed at times, but a lot of those people knew the crazy lady on the Rosebud River, they knew these incidents or participated in them. There are records of his time as a law man. He was larger than life in more ways than one, but the history is far more sound. I took a deep dive on it many years ago and bought some of the books from the 1920’s when the history was compiled. His story is compelling.

      I can only imagine what he’d have to say about BLM and AntiFA. Likely he’d advise eating a few livers.

      • I like factual history as well, gives a much better perspective on the person. No doubt JJ was who as he has been described, Slade was a tough character, an excellent Overland Stage Station manager, not to be messed with, but like JJ, went a bit wild when visiting the local saloon down in LaPorte.

        It was a much rougher time…BLM and Antifa would not survive ten minutes.

        • Laporte was quite the place Back In The Day. Not quite as ‘wild and crazy’ as Stout was, but a very interesting place with a lot of history. I have the Ansel Watrous book “The History of Larimer County”, and while it’s a bit hard to read for various reasons, it’s one of those books written by somebody who was there, and has taught me a lot about the early days here.

          I can neither confirm nor deny that photo, LL, as I don’t recognize the flag patch.

  6. Mr. LL – Not to hijack the discussion, but…can we expect your novel regarding the “magnetic” creatures at some time or was the “short” just a passing fancy and gone?

    • I have been amassing research for the novel and have about half of the work done. It’s been expanded beyond the short to include more of the plot that you’d expect in a novel. I haven’t shared it here because the incident in the short appears about 55 pages into it, after some character development and some actual science. There is a love interest, etc. So no, I’m still on it.

      Quite frankly, the Plague and some frustration with the political scene has interrupted my writing muse. I have NOT gone to the site of riots, stood off a few hundred meters and punched holes through the leadership (locally) nor have I hunted those funding the situation. But it’s taken willpower.

      • FishStyx – it’s really come down to “it’s not my fight”. Portland elects scumbag politicians who order the police to stand down so that the mob can burn and loot. They’re poised to elect an AntiFA person to replace Wheeler and likely to continue burning until there’s nothing left to burn. Portland loves this rioting, or they’d stop it. Why would I take sides in this bullshit?

        • Very glad to hear on the Novel front! Very much looking forward to it!
          Agreed on the current “troubles”.
          Kept getting wrapped around the axles over it, then came to the conclusion that I don’t want to waste my energy on someone else’s problem or die on someone else’s hill.
          Reinforce the barricades and watch the horizon.
          Pro Patria Vigilans

          • The writing process, for me (I can’t say about others), is sometimes a struggle to stay on target and not to allow the plot to drift because I fall in love with my characters. Narcissism maybe?

          • I can’t find the ‘reply’ button, so…

            The writing process, for me (I can’t say about others), is sometimes a struggle to stay on target and not to allow the plot to drift because I fall in love with my characters. Narcissism maybe?

            Not narcissism, no. The character takes on a life of his own, and the author relates what the character thinks, feels, and perceives. I’ve heard many writers complain about this, that the work would be finished but…

          • They say that the difference between a writer and an author is that an author has a friend in the publishing business. Which is why politicians and media types all see their books in print, do book tours, and get massive advances.

            For me, the time writing transports me and it really doesn’t matter who reads it. When I first started writing, bad reviews crushed me. Today I seriously don’t read them and don’t care. Good reviews are always better and I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate them, but you can’t please everyone. One man’s elixir is another man’s poison.

        • @LL: Any chance we could quietly encourage L’il Kim of Norkland to nuke Portland? Preferably after getting what Kurt Schlichter’s calls “Normals” to skedaddle and not look back? Maybe with a neutron bomb? We (the Normals, but not my wife and I) would like to move in someday. There’s much prime real estate within less than 100 miles from the coast that could be resettled. Given that I’m well past my prime and have no children, let alone grandchildren (not by choice, but my wife’s ovarian cancer and financial incapacity until we were too old), we’d volunteer for port reclamation duty. That “solution” would be far less destructive than any of the Democratic Party’s “solutions”.

        • My wife would beg to differ, considering what I spent in the last couple of years on a higher-end scoped AR in 6.5 Grendel (and I wish now I’d gone for 6.5 Creedmore while I had the blessing of the Chancellor of the Exchequer), and a Sig P365XL. Ah, well. A man can dream of a first-class lever gun.

          • Larry, the first rule of firearms acquisition is that you don’t tell your wife what you spent. And better that you explain that you ‘found it’ or some other worthy explanation. I’ve recently (genuinely) picked up a weapon or two by way of weapons in lieu of fees. In that way I needn’t lie. I’m sure that there is a first class lever action rifle laying in a ditch somewhere, waiting for you to find it.

            Or go to the lakes that RHT447 and Ed canoe in. Bring a mask and fins. There’s black gold at the bottom.

          • I’ve shot a lot of different lever guns, and I prefer the Marlin line. Solid construction, side-eject port so you can easily scope them, and very accurate once you get them sighted in with the ammo they’re happiest with.

            And they’re very reasonably priced.

    • Yeah, when you’re laying there on the ground, paralyzed, with a severed spine, and Big John Johnson, hovers over you with a knife, prepared to cut out your liver and eat it (without a nice glass of wine), it must be a serious moment of reflection.

      • Or if you’re George A. Custer looking up at Rain-in-the-Face, Crazy Horse, or Sitting Bull, or whoever mutilated and scalped him. My grandfather met a number of warriors who fought at the Rosebud and Little Big Horn when he was a kid. His parents hired labor during intensive seasons from the Pine Ridge Reservation. They were old men by that time (by the standards of WWI), but they didn’t do the work anyway. The “squaws” and older kids did all the work.

        My only personal observation from Montana is that there was in the 1990s a big difference between the Blackfeet, Crow, Sioux/Dakota/Lakota, and Northern Cheyenne. Most of the Blackfeet and Northern Cheyenne who’d left the Rez were good people, in my experience. The Crow, not nearly so much. Not exactly bad, but thieves, like ‘Travelers’ in England. Dakota/Lakota was a mixed bag, for sure. Had I lived closer to their reservations, I might’ve ended up feeling differently. But every Native American tribe is at least as different from their neighbors as any European nation is to any other going from Portugal to Kazakhstan or Tajikhastan.

  7. I like that last picture. Old crusty guy with the Yugo SKS and what appears to be the Serbian flag on his wool overcoat. I wonder if he lived through that mess?

    • People tend to dismiss the SKS. Possibly because they were imported from China and elsewhere and sold here on the cheap. But I can assure you that nobody who ever went up against those little rice-propelled mofos who knew how to properly run one would ever be so foolish. I bet that crusty old bastidge knew how to properly run his, too. I hope he made it and if not still alive, died peacefully in his bunk with a full stomach.

  8. Sadly, the left thinks it’s a rheostat they can dial up and down. They don’t realize it’s a switch… And we only see off or on. And if it’s on, the monsters come out.

    • I trust that Arizona will hold firm. The donkeys are pouring a lot of money into this state. And it is the party of anarchists and billionaires.

      • Just hope that most of the emigrés from the far left coast are center-to-right refugees instead of left-to-far-left locusts. I suspect most of those fleeing aren’t leftist True Believers, but how can one really tell?

  9. I recall reading an article in True West (?) magazine about Liver Eatin’ Johnson and in an interview given late in life he said the liver eating appellation resulted from an incident where he and a party of trappers were involved in a skirmish with a war party of indigenous folks. He had killed one of the warriors near the end of the fight with his knife and upon rising from the struggle there was a piece of the dead warrior’s liver stuck on the end of his blade. One of his companions was near and he held up his knife with the piece of liver on it and asked his fellow if he wanted a bite and assured him he had tried it and found it good.
    Johnson said he had never eaten his enemies liver, but it was a useful fiction that he chose to propagate to enhance his terrifying image with the Crow.

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