Monday, July 25, 2011


Every time I am channel-surfing and see the movie 'Jeremiah Johnson' playing, I stop and watch it.  For some reason or another, it is one of my favorite movies.  I have always like Robert Redford and he is the star, but I also like the story.  In a few words:  'Jeremiah Johnson' is the story of a guy who decided to go west and become a Mountain Man.  He wanted to live a life of solitude and trap, hunt, and fish.  And because of circumstances, he got caught up in a 'war' with the Crow nation--and this helped him establish his reputation.  It was a story of a man who wanted to be left alone and 'do his own thing,' but it didn't happen in that way.  Despite the fact that there was a lot of killing in the movie--very little blood, however--it was kind of idyllic and beautiful in its own way.  But what else would you expect from a Robert Redford movie?

A couple of months back, I FINALLY decided to investigate 'Jeremiah Johnson' a little further, after another viewing of the movie.  I found out that there was a REAL person that this movie was based on and his name was John Johnson--and as in the case of most of the Mountain Men, he was very much different than the man portrayed in the movie.  When I realized that there was a book written about John Johnson, I KNEW I had to read it.

The book 'Crow Killer:  The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson' is in a genre that I don't normally gravitate to.  While I DO read some biographies,  I don't know if I would necessarily read one of a 'western' character.  But this book was completely fascinating--probably because it was a very truthful look at a period of US history that has been exaggerated so much over the years.  This book was published in 1958 and I was amazed and surprised at how 'unvarnished' the truthfulness of the story was.  We are so used to the days where the 'red men' were vilified as savages--as so many of the movies and TV shows of the 50s did--and today we are being brainwashed into believing that they did NOTHING wrong, whatsoever, to ANY 'white men.'  This book showed the savagery that both groups of people brought down on each other.  And this was accomplished in a way that was quite matter-of-fact--this was how living was then and the book showed it.  There was no judging, no blame, and both the 'white men' and the 'red men' were shown to be savages, as well as kind and compassionate.  The movie did, to a certain extent, have an even-handedness about it, but change was already coming and, while subtle, it was implied that the killing of Johnson's wife was pretty much justified.  (He led a group of men through the sacred burial grounds of the Crow, even though he KNEW it was forbidden--so the Crow were justified in their revenge.  In the book, it was just a group of young Crow who were on a rampage, who killed his wife.  HE was justified in going after THEM for revenge.)  Tiny, subtle difference, but very glaring when you examine the book and movie side-by-side.

Without going into the book much further, I must say that it was refreshing to read a book that really didn't have an agenda attached to it.  This was a straight-forward history of what this country was like--although it was done in a non-dry way, as too many history books are.  With the political correctness today, I really wonder if this book would be allowed to be published--OR if it would be protested because of the 'hatred' that the Native Americans had to endure in it.  I really wish we could get more plain truth and less of the PC crap that we have to have today.  For crying out loud, the word 'nigger' isn't allowed to be uttered in ANY context--in a news story or as a quote, even--because it isn't PC.  In this book, some of the Native Americans were called 'red niggers' by the Mountain Men--and this isn't something you would be allowed to write today without a horrible backlash.  I guess I'm just getting old, because I will have to say 'sometimes I wish for the good old days.'  ;)

***John Johnson got his nickname of 'Liver-Eating Johnson' because he cut out the livers of the Crow he killed and ate them raw.  (This was an insult to his enemies.)  Cannibalism as a way to survive or insult another wasn't unknown at this time in history.  This is something that I wonder how it would be handled in a book published today--would it be written as it actually was, or would it be white-washed?  I DO wonder how much of what I read today has been 'sanitized for others' possible hurt feelings.'***


Anonymous said...

I've heard that there's been instances where some people want to sanitize books published long ago, because of the words in them-Huckleberry Finn gets on banned book lists because of the word "nigger". I think we should leave things as they are, to show us how far we've come, and to remind us what things used to be like.

The book might be published today, knowing there would probably be outcries from both the NA and PC contingents. Some people think that absolutely any negative depictions or non-PC terms are not to be allowed, even in non-fiction books and fact-based fiction. I think that if these people are allowed to prevail, we'll become like pod people-afraid to say anything in case it's "wrong", so we won't say anything.

cmk said...

There are some history books that have--or proposed to have--some of the 'white history' taken out and replaced by more black and Native American history. Granted, a lot of the contributions made by minorities HAVE been ignored, but you can't just ignore the white contributions just to try and 'even things out.' Sometimes fixing things just screws everything up even more.

Somehow, I didn't really get the feeling that the usage of the word 'nigger' by these men was as terrible or derogatory a thing as we seem it today. Granted, they weren't using it as a term of endearment, but it was like calling someone a 'son-of-a-bitch' or maybe a little harsher. But it didn't seem to have anything to do with race. But today, you aren't allowed to use the term in any context--or ANYTHING that might be derogatory because of the PC police. And yes, we are getting to the point where we can't say anything and we are fast becoming pod people. Actually, I didn't know if I should even use the term in this post--even though I wasn't using it to downgrade anyone. I still may get negative comments--who knows.

Anonymous said...

I've heard that black people still call each other that name, and I don't see why it's OK for them to use it but not white people-not that I'd want to use it, but it doesn't make sense for a group of people to call each other a derogatory name but be offended when another group uses it. It should be allowed to disappear from the language.

A few years ago, I was looking at the obituaries in the newspaper and was startled to see the surname "Knigga". I decided to Google it to see how it was pronounced and where in the world it came from, and found one site by a guy with that last name, didn't say much but you had to click a link if you wanted to know how it was pronounced and I didn't want to click it. Imagine having that last name-especially having to tell people on the phone that's your name, etc. I'd have changed it to something else.

cmk said...

The usage of the word is quite common in rap music, I guess. And a lot of people HAVE brought up the same point you have. No one has really explained why the word is acceptable sometimes and not other times in a way that I can understand. And any time someone says THAT, the answer always comes back as "Well, YOU'RE not black, so you CAN'T understand." {sigh}

I agree, I would have changed my name, for sure. When you see the unfortunate monograms or words that people's initials make, I spent HOURS coming up with acceptable names for my girls before they were born. I didn't want to saddle them with anything that others could tease them about.

Anonymous said...

I think that kids will leap on the tiniest thing to make fun of. I remember in elementary school, kids would get teased with "dirty" rhymes/variations of their names, and my name stymied them-the worst anyone could come up with was "Janut". And the kids had trouble spelling/pronouncing my last name so I didn't get ragged about it, either. ;-)