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.'***