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Robert Redford's "Jeremiah Johnson”: The Real Story of a Hollywood Mountain Man

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 16, 2024 3:04 am

Robert Redford's "Jeremiah Johnson”: The Real Story of a Hollywood Mountain Man

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 16, 2024 3:04 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, the lore and legend of the American Mountain Man is a story that seems to only grow with time. In 2015, Leonardo DiCaprio played the legendary Mountain Man, Hugh Glass in The Revenant. And in 1972, Robert Redford starred as the title character in Jeremiah Johnson. And like Hugh Glass, Johnson too was a real-life fur trapper. Here to separate fact from fiction is Ashley Hlebinsky.

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18 plus, terms and conditions apply. See website for details. And we continue with our American stories. The lore and legend of the American mountain man is a story that only seems to grow with time. In 2015, Leonardo DiCaprio played the legendary mountain man, Hugh Glass, in The Revenant.

In 1972, Robert Redford starred as the title character in Jeremiah Johnson. Here to separate fact from fiction is Ashley Lubinsky. Ashley is the former co-host of Discovery Channel's Master of Arms, the former curator in charge of the Cody Firearms Museum, and she's president of the Gun Code LLC.

Here's Ashley. I used to run this very large museum in the American West and on display at that museum there was a firearm called a Hawken rifle and a bowie knife with a sheath and these two things belong to a man named Liver Eating Johnson. Although that's not really his name. His name was John Johnston with a T, but he also at some points in his life went by John Garrison, John Johnson with no T because spelling standardization wasn't a thing in the 1800s, Jack Johnson, and then by his prolific mythic name Liver Eating Johnson. And a lot of people who come to the museum would also call him Jeremiah Johnson and the reason behind that was because of a movie that was starring Robert Redford called Jeremiah Johnson in 1972 and so basically you've got the man, you've got his artifacts, and then you've got a whole host of nonsense somewhere in the middle in order to kind of understand who he was and why people are so obsessed with him even today. Now part of that really plays into people's fascination with the American West especially the early American West.

So before trains, before mass migration out west you know these rugged men kind of scary-looking men a little bit that would go out west and they were basically mapping the terrain but then they were also hunting, trapping, trading with Native Americans and all of those people that went out there had very kind of iconic stories. One of them is Hugh Glass who you know was attacked by a bear and then you know abandoned by his people and basically had to drag himself to a fort so all of these stories are just larger than life so it makes perfect sense that Liver Eating Johnson's story is no different and because of the movie, because of a novel by Vardis Fisher called Mountain Man, his life is just larger than life actually. So here's a few things we do know about him that are true. So he was born John Garrison but he did change his name to John Johnston at some point and like I said his name appeared in newspapers and records as John Johnson without the T but that again is because they didn't have spell check on their and their newspaper reports. So he actually was born in 1824 and he lived in Little York New Jersey and kind of like the start of a lot of stories about you know rugged violent men is that he grew up in a very violent home and so he was one of six siblings and he had an alcoholic father who really kind of beat up on him and so it kind of starts that beginning to understanding his life. He stood at six feet tall he was over 200 pounds so just this really impressive looking person but this idea of his violent nature is also what kind of fuels this mythology behind who he is and a lot of that comes from an academic book that was written in the middle of the 20th century called Crow Killer and the book is fascinating I highly recommend the read however it's based almost exclusively in oral tradition and oral tradition was a huge part of Native American customs the mountain man custom when you were moving out west and so it's understandable you're sitting around the campfire you're telling stories and one of the stories that was told was about liver eating Johnson and this story was passed down and it begins in 1847 the previous winner John Johnston was living out west and he married a flathead Indian woman and right after their nuptials he was called away to go do work and he left her at their cabin and when he returned in May of 1847 he found her murdered by the Crow Indians so the story goes he declared war on the Crow nation and that he single-handedly killed dozens of Crow warriors and ultimately he was attacked by a Blackfoot chief the wolf and several of his men and they the story gets so weird so they capture him and it says that he was able to chew through his leather cuffs that they you know shackled him with and he attacked a guard with a kick and blow to the face and that he cut off that man's leg and ate it as he kind of made his grand escape and got back to safety and that he continued to kill these crow warriors until 1868 he was tired of fighting and he rode into the camp of crow chief gray bear which would blossom into a lifelong friendship so this is part of that story the other part of that story is the liver eating part so if you believe the part about the eating a leg I mean I guess it doesn't sound totally crazy that he would be eating livers but this story basically said that he was carving out the livers of his foes so the crow warriors and eating them and part of that story if I understand it correctly is that to the Crow nation you know the liver was considered the way to pass on to the afterlife so in a sense he was eating their souls but this story kind of kept going and growing bigger and bigger passed on by different tribal nations passed on by different mountain men and then you know basically immortalized in this academic book that then became a novel became a movie and here we are the interesting part of this though is there is primary source documentation from this time period that don't put him in the West in 1847 they actually put him in the Mexican American War around this time and his obituary actually in the Carbon County Democrat states that he went to shore for leave and never came back after violently attacking a lieutenant in his command but a military pension that Johnson claims in 1884 said he was in the Navy until the 1860s the primary source documentation implies that he always had a great relationship with the coronation and in fact he had issues and declared war on the Blackfeet and the Sioux which does kind of follow the trajectory of a lot of mountain man history the Blackfeet and the mountain man really didn't get along and the piece about the liver actually there's some reports that say that that was a joke that he started and I guess be careful things you joke about because it becomes basically like a game of telephone when you pass on oral histories so if you don't want to believe that he was you know in the West and they you know until the 1860s or even if you want to believe that he was out there earlier because I will say when I was running the museum nobody cared when I corrected the story they still wanted to know the story as they you know saw it when they watched the movie but there are some things that we know after that time period so he moved out west in the 1860s and he was a deputy sheriff in Montana so he spent some time in Colson Montana and then he moved to Red Lodge Montana and he did fight in the Plains Indian Wars but he stayed there until 1899 when he was admitted to the Santa Monica National Soldiers home and he died on January 21st 1900 so right at the turn of the 20th century which is actually pretty late when you consider the mountain man era by that point you're getting a much more modern America there transcontinental railroad you know is put into place people are living out in the American West so it's kind of you know this bygone era that he's now passing away and you know things really change as you get into the 20th century after the Robert Redford and became out in 1972 Jeremiah Johnson Robert Redford actually had his body removed and moved to Cody Wyoming and I don't know why Cody but I mean there's a lot of western stuff in Cody so if you're planning on visiting his grave he's not in California anymore you can go to this small town of 9,000 people and there's this repurposed ghost town of old buildings that were from all over the West that they've kind of put together so you can go and see them all in one place and if you walk about 20 yards out of that little ghost town you can go and visit his grave and a lot of people go because of Robert Redford as well and a terrific job on the production and editing by Greg Hengler and a special thanks to Ashley Lebinski and by the way Ashley's done some terrific storytelling for us and that includes Annie Oakley Eli Whitney the story of the cult revolver and Sarah Winchester go to our American stories calm and take a listen we're very grateful to have her as a regular contributor here on our American stories the story the myth and the facts of mountain man Jeremiah Johnson here on our American stories I'm Katya Adler host of the global story over the last 25 years I've covered conflicts in the Middle East political and economic crises in Europe drug cartels in Mexico now I'm covering the stories behind the news all over the world in 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