5132 York Blvd., # 718
Los Angeles, California 90050
Review by Dorman Nelson July 5, 2009
CROW KILLER by Raymond Thorp and Robert Bunker
Interesting to note that Crow Killer was written in 1956 and first published in 1957. Despite the cruel depictions of battle, attitudes and man vrs man and nature; Bunker actually wrote nurturing prose about the Native Americans in Other Men's Skies and other publications.
Raymond Thorp was the mover and shaker in getting information and tracking down individuals involved in the Liver Eating Johnson saga. (He wrote about Black Widows and Jim Bowie's knife, as well.) There are pictures of him with Johnston's National Cemetery Stone in Sawtelle, California, of some of his weapons and areas in the Johnson arena while rambling after the real man. He spent a lot of time talking to veterans of the plains and mountains, many of them coming to Pasedena pastures to graze in arthritic old age. (Hard to move around in the cold crippled up.) Del Gue was the one fella I could never find any historic facts about. Not even his name is mentioned anywhere. Others are looking as well.
White-eyed Anderson was another frontiersman. He was there, bunked and trapped with Johnston for a time and is now buried in California at Forest Lawn.
Robert Bunker was the actual writer; fleshing out the information that Thorp gave him. (I was fortunate to speak to and write him about this book over the years. Both have joined Johnston in eternal rest.) Together the authors have created a moving piece of folklore laced with truth about the frontier and this one man who was known to many in his time. Not mentioned is Johnston's considerable time as a whiskey peddler in Canada out of Fort Benton and his time with an 1884 wild west show along with Crow Indians, Calamity Jane, Curley, Hardwick, LeForge and many others.
He did not have a beef with the Crow. Oh, but he enjoyed beef livers with them at least once by some accounts....during the agency slaughter. It was the Sioux that was stirring the warpath soup. Johnston earned his moniker against them, shot them, poisoned them and generally distrusted them. He got along with the Crow. So here is the subplot of Crow Killer and the movie Jeremiah Johnson that was made in 1972. The Crow were after him.
The book was supposed to be a history. It is, but it is one of tall tales. In that, I would explain that after a day's work one would be laying or sitting by a good fire, full of buffalo rib and berries and perhaps a jigger of whiskey, enjoying a smoke or chew while each good-natured comrade is telling how it was and how it had been...Perhaps the best new book on this subject would be Dr. Dennis John McLelland's The Avenging Fury of the Plains John "Liver Eating" Johnston in that he debunks (sorry Robert) Crow Killer and explains the real man and times.
Johnston has been my research subject since I saw his cabin at Red lodge, Montana in 1969. (See www.johnlivereatingjohnston.com) I have heard all the tales of men in their cups, men on the range, men of boast, men of action and quite a few gals therein while traipsing the historical trails in search of Crow Killer. One such tale in the book has to do with the frozen leg escape, which is a good grisly one, but was actually done by one Boone Helm. Imagine my surprise to get a call from one of his direct descendants to add to my knowledge of the rowdy Helm brothers!
What I would direct readers to enjoy is the fable, the boast, the roar and chest-thumping of men who in reality had not much to do but survive and hold on to memories as they got feeble and needed an outlet for that mental energy pent up inside from those long ago hair raising exploits. It was not an easy life, conquering the west. And many did not get to rest out in pleasant climes like California, having an arrow, bullet, blizzard, bear, fallen boulder or lack of food make their day end--sometimes not very quickly.
Crow Killer is a good book to flavor that time, feel the hone of a blade, duck from a loud crack or wang of a bow string, smell the campfire, enjoy a good buffalo rib (online, if you want) and get some knowledge of survival and how those folks got along with their neighbors. Crow Killer must be on it’s twenty-ninth printing by now—if not it will be.