The World Wide Web, for better of for worse can sometimes lead to an unexpected and pleasant discovery. I was trying to order several books for the library
where I am employed when one of those annoying “pop ups” suggested even more titles that I should buy as well. But one book caught my eye immediately. It
was entitled Crow Killer and for one who has hunted them for many years I figured that maybe I could learn some additional tips for blasting these
scavengers from the sky.
As it turned out, my library had a copy and off to the stacks I went. There on the shelf it sat, but the full title was: Crow Killer The Saga of Liver Eating Johnson.
Now this doesn’t happen to me very often which is why I am dedicating this blog to a book that is actually rather old. It is my modus operandi to
read between 10-13 books simultaneously but this tome was devoured in just a few nights and I still can’t get it out of my mind.
The story begins in the 1840s in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains where a “mountain man” by the name of John Johnston lured by an advertisement, heeded the
call to trap in a wilderness so bountiful with game that any tough young man could make his fortune.
Now this guy was one rough hombre. Standing at six foot four inches and 240 pounds of sheer muscle and bone, he could strangle people to death with one
hand (which he did on several occasions) not to mention make incredible rifle shots with his Hawken. His sixth sense of danger was so acute that he could
“smell” Indians and determine what tribe. His bush-craft so renowned that by looking at how a campfire was constructed would give away the identity of the
All was going well for John. The trapping was bountiful and profits substantial. Soon afterwards he married the daughter of an Indian chief of the Flathead
nation. He was very kind to her although he was rather taciturn as most of these trappers tended to be. They were happy together and she now carried his
child. But in 1847 all of that changed.
Now called Johnson, he went off to hunt for a month and left his wife well provisioned and armed at their snug little cabin. A small raiding party of five
Crow braves, all young bucks and eager to make a name for themself descended upon her so quickly she could not even remove her knife from its scabbard. She
was tomahawked, scalped and disemboweled. This was a REALLY big mistake, as they had no clue with whom they were dealing with.
Johnson showed up two days later. Made a quick evaluation of the carnage, carefully buried his bride and unborn child and then set out for revenge.
Tracking them down was quite easy and in a very short time he had located and killed all of them. But here is where it gets really gruesome. John wanted to
make certain the Crow nation would always know whom they had for an enemy. To make absolutely certain there could be no error, Johnson with his razor sharp
Bowie knife, cut out the livers of all five braves and took a bite out of each one.
The Crow nation was stunned. But unlike the Sioux who would have descended in say a group of 100 upon one luckless soul, the Crow believed in individual
combat only. After calling all of the braves together, twenty of the toughest and courageous were chosen to leave the tribe and singly kill John Johnson.
Now if this is starting to sound like a movie, the answer is yes. This book was the basis for the 1972 drama Jeremiah Johnson starring Robert
Redford and Will Geer. But as folks often say, the book is a lot better than the movie.
Johnson’s war with the Crow nation would last over two decades! He would kill them all in single combat and often threw his disadvantaged victim a knife or
tomahawk only to kill them with a single crushing blow to the head. The ultimate revenge came when he discovered 60 Crow warriors huddled in a slough
resting from a few days of raiding. Going to his father-in-law with this choice bit of information, they hatch the greatest trap one could imagine. With
John silently killing the sentries and stealthily leading all the horses away, the Flatheads struck with a vengeance. The Crows were annihilated.
There are so many other episodes, many too grisly to post here, that I am afraid you’ll just have to read the book. One thing I know for certain; liver and
onions will just never be the same for me.
Thorp, Raymond W., and Robert Bunker. 1969.
Crow Killer; the Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson
. Bloomington,: Indiana University Press.