Friday, March 09, 2007

Strange But True

Curiosity got the better of me today, so I clicked on’s “Birdwatching” category under Books. Scrolling down the list of “results” that was presented to me, I found the usual and expected assortment of field guides interspersed with other assorted books about birds such as Jonathan Weiner’s The beak of the finch, Pete Dunne’s The art of pishing, Mark Bittner’s The wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, and Graeme Gibson’s The bedside book of birds. And then, listed right there at #24 (nestled between Ligouri and Sibley's Hawks at every angle and Peterson's A field guide to western birds), my eyes fell upon this stunner of a title:
Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson, by Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker
Said to have been born about 1824 in New Jersey, John Garrison became a legendary and infamous American mountain man who at some point changed his name to John Johnston (which, for reasons unknown, is usually spelled Johnson without the “t”). Johnson’s exploits earned him two nicknames during his lifetime: Crow Killer and Liver-Eating.

The crows that Liver-Eating Johnson (ya gotta love that beard!) became famous for killing were not those of the feathered kind, but rather members of the Crow tribe, against which he carried out a 20-year vendetta in revenge for the murder of his Native American wife. He also earned the unsavory reputation of cutting out and eating the livers of each man that he killed. Johnson died in 1900 at the age of 76 in a Veteran’s hospital in Los Angeles, California. His exploits (whether fictional or true) became the basis for the movie Jeremiah Johnson featuring Robert Redford; a really great movie, by the way.


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