Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Liver Eating" Johnson

In the East, any inn worth the designation as "historic" can claim that "George Washington slept here."

In the parts of the West that we've been touring, we have found towns, parks, and homes claiming that either Butch Cassidy or the Sundance Kid spent time there. Our most recent encounters with homes associated with Butch and his sidekicks came at Old Trail Town on the edge of Cody (WY). One of the two dozen-plus buildings, dating betweeen 1879 and 1901, that have been moved to this site from towns in the Cody area is the Mud Spring Cabin (above). At this hideout, Kid Curry and the Sundance Kid planned their attempt to hold up the Red Lodge Bank.

Another cabin in Old Trail Town, built in 1883 on Buffalo Creek in the "Hole in the Wall" country, served as a rendezvous for Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and other outlaws of the region.


Finding this group picture was a surprise. Back row: (l to r): Will Carver, Kid Curry. Front row (l to r): Sundance Kid, Ben Kirkpatrick, Butch Cassidy.

This 1888 Homestead Cabin was described as "a fine example of log craftsmanship." Indeed, it was. The joints are very tight, and the whole cabin is square and looks very solid.

The next three photos were taken from the front door of the Shell Store.
As you can tell from the vintage merchandise on the shelves, if visitors had free reign to walk through the store, some of the merchandise would also walk.

The necktie and white vest on the counter (above) seemed to have just come in on a shipment from the East.

The shelves were stocked and the register appeared in working order. Ready for business.

On the shelves we could see Niagra laundry starch and, of course, the Stetson hat box.

The store was built in 1892 and was the first store in Shell, WY.

From the size of this box (right), it seemed that hair tonic was an essential item in the West of the 1890s.

The Coffin School was built in 1884 at the W Bar Ranch on the Wood River.

I thought the globe and the bell on the teacher's desk looked very appropriate for the school.
I liked the touches of the slate on one of the desks and what looks like a lunch bucket on the other desk.

The Coffin School received its name from the tragic death of Alfred Nower who died of gangrene in this cabin after he cut himself in the leg while hewing logs.

Lastly, reading Alan Bellows' account of John "Liver Eating" Johnson introduced us to another historical figure of the West. Born sometime around 1824 in Little York, NJ, as John Garrison, he changed his name to John Johnston and deserted the navy after fighting with an officer at the time of the Mexican American War.

Johnston learned trapping, hunting, and survival skills from Hatcher, a mountain man of some reknown. When Hatcher quit the mountain-manning trade several years later, Johnston took over the cabin and set out for the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, where a year earlier a Flathead Indian sub-chief had offered his daughter to Johnston in a trade. Johnston made the exchange in 1846, and he and his new wife set off to return to his cabin on the Little Snake River.

Returning to his cabin after a winter of trapping and hunting, he found his wife and unborn child had been killed. It was clear that she had been the victim of a Crow hunting party.

Soon the scalped bodies of Crow warriors began to appear throughout the Northern Rockies and the plains of Wyoming and Montana. Each had had his liver cut out, and presumably eaten by the killer. Eventually other mountain men and Indians learned of Johnston's ongoing vengeance slayings, and he soon became known as "Liver-Eating Johnson" (dropping the "t" in "Johnston").

After almost twenty years and countless Crow deaths, Johnston finally ended his vendetta against the Crow and made peace.

He was admitted to a veteran's hospital in Los Angeles, where he died on January 21, 1900.

Then in 1972, a middle school teacher, Tri Robinson, in the Antelope Valley town of Lancaster, CA, became fascinated by his story and learned that Johnston had wanted to be interred in his old stomping grounds in the northern Rockies. He shared the book with his seventh-grade students.

Robinson's students at Park View Middle School began calling themselves the Committee for the Reburial of Liver-Eating Johnston. In 1974, more than 2,000 people paid homage at Johnston's new burial ground, the gateway to Yellowstone National Park.

John Garrison was mmortalized as "Jeremiah Johnson" in the 1972 film. Seeing this photo of Mr. Garrison just cries out that he be played by . . . Robert Redford.

Two interesting points: In the movie there was no reference to liver consumption or removal and on June 8, 1974, Liver Eating Johnson's body was reburied in Old Trail Town in Cody, Wyoming with Robert Redford as one of the pallbearers.

23 comments:

Dorman Nelson said...

In your blog you mentioned Alan Bellows, and he had written the information? Please expound.
Thanks,
Dorman
www.johnlivereatingjohnston.com

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