The American frontier was a badass bitch of an unforgiving wilderness that feasted on the hollowed-out husks of cowards and weaklings and laughed demonically every time some jackass who thought he was the toughest shit since over-cooked turkey ended up on the wrong side of a mouth full of grizzly bear teeth. Between a carnivorous menagerie of miscellaneous flesh-consuming beasts, dense forests dotted with craggy cliffs and Drow-infested caves, and badass indigenous peoples who were more than a little disgruntled about the fact that white men decided to encroach on their ancestral lands, traveling West of the Mississippi was usually about as hazardous to your health as urinating directly into a power outlet. Well, while the West was pretty much making everybody its bitch, the man known as Liver-Eating Johnson made a name for himself by becoming the most hardcore, violently insane motherfucker to ever strap on a Bowie Knife and kick a deer in half while simultaneously skinning an unidentified member of the genus Canis.
John Garrison was born in New Jersey of all places, but it became pretty fucking obvious that he wasn't cut out for life on the East Coast. He enlisted in the Navy at sixteen and soon thereafter deserted his post after he punched out his commanding officer. In order to avoid being brought up on charges for skipping out on his military duties and beating the fuck out of his Captain, Garrison rode the rails out West, settled in the Rocky Mountains, and changed his name to John "Jonathan" Johnson Johnston John's Son Tson.
Of course, today that guy is pretty much universally referred to as "Liver-Eating Johnson", so, even assuming that this is just a clever name (which it's not – I'll get to that in due time) it's still pretty safe to say that he was completely fucking nuts. Well, first off, this guy didn't look like the sort of guy you invite over for cheese and wine and talking about how much everybody has grown up since college. This six-foot tall, 200-pound, ripped-ass fucking mountain man wore buckskin clothing, sported a massive red beard, and carried a twelve-inch Bowie knife, a hand-carved tomahawk, a rifle, and a Walker Colt pistol. He was a professional hunter, trapper, and fur trader, and he was damn good at what he did. He lived off the land, fought Indians and grizzly bears, drank enough rotgut booze to burn a hole through a six-inch plate of sheet metal, and learned the fine art of scalping from the Arapaho Indian tribe. He married a Salish Indian woman in 1846, built a log cabin out of trees he uprooted with his nutsack, and was basically regarded as the toughest and most badass motherfucker in town.
Well, apparently the Crow Indians didn't get the memo – they attacked his home one day while he was out in the wilderness, killed his vastly pregnant wife, scalped her corpse, and burned his house to the ground.
This was not a wise move.
The 1972 film Jeremiah Johnson is (loosely) based off of the life of Liver-Eating Johnson.
Johnson completely fucking lost it. He flipped out and started killing Crow warriors wherever he could find them, and then, just to be even more fucking insane, he would cut out the livers of his slain enemies and fucking eat them. Sure, this is pretty disgusting, and I certainly don't advocate the wanton slaughter of Native Americans, but you kind of have to appreciate how super ripshit pissed / borderline-psychotic this motherfucker was to start consuming crazy cannibal man-haggis as a symbol of his mad desire for vengeance.
During the course of his twenty-five year blood feud with the entire Crow Nation, Johnson claims to have killed something on the order of 300 braves, including one time when he took out an entire raiding party of 20 warriors who had been sent to ambush and kill him. He was soon known as "Dapiek Absaroka" ("Crow-Killer") by the Crow, "Liver-Eating Johnson" by his fellow frontiersmen, and "That Fucking Insane Cannibal Mountain Man" by pretty much everybody else.
One story claims that Johnson was ambushed by Blackfoot Indians while en route to deliver 40 gallons of whiskey to a remote wilderness settlement. The Blackfoots grabbed him, tied him up, and decide to hand him over to the Crow so that they could finally exact revenge on their much-hated adversary. Well, that night Liver-Eating Fucking Johnson chewed through his rawhide bindings, killed the guard assigned to watch him, cut the dude's fucking leg off, and escaped 200 miles through the snow in the middle of winter. When he got hungry he gnawed on the leg, and at one point he actually used the thing to fend off a mountain lion (!!).
Now I should mention that most of these stories are probably bullcrap tall tales told by frontiersmen with nothing better to do. There are no real contemporary records of what this motherfucker was all about, and it has been theorized that he used to actually "fake" that he was eating livers just to terrify and strike fear into Indians and frontiersmen alike, but you have to kind of respect the fact that this guy made such a name for himself as a completely insane hardass that pretty much everybody was afraid of him.
In 1864 Johnson enlisted in the Union Army, where he served as a scout and a sniper on the Western Front. He was discharged after a year, when he returned home and got right back to having insane adventures. He eventually made peace with the Crow, became sheriff of Coulson, Montana, told Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show to go fuck itself, and continued living the life of a mountain man hunter. For all of his violent ways, he died of illness in 1900 at the age of 77, one of most colorful nutcases in American history.
What the fuck are you looking at?
McLoughlin, Denis. The Encyclopedia of the Old West. Taylor & Francis, 1977.
Slatta, Richard W. The Mythical West. ABC-CLIO, 2001.
Thrapp, Dan L. Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography. Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1991.
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