UKArchive ID: 29873Liver-Eating Johnson Escapes! by ChairmanWow
Originally published on March 18, 2013 in Poetry    

Narrative poem based on a "true legend" about a cannibal mountain man from the wild west. Story is good for terrifying teenagers at the campfire. Story(minus the cannibalism) is the source for the Robert Redford movie "Jeremiah Johnson." Heroic statue of Liver-Eating Johnson stands in Cody, Wyoming.

1849--What is now the Idaho-Wyoming-Montana border.

Dreaming Moon summoned her son.
stepped into the teepee
out of the snowy night. "Yes Mother."

"You have been chosen to guard
the great white warrior," she said smiling.

"You mean the mountain man
they call 'Liver-Eating Johnson,'
who is said to have murdered
over one hundred Crow
and then ate their livers
like they were animals,
not men. That white man?"
Cougar-in-the-Tree queried.

"Oh, you must not
insult the Whites!"
Dreaming Moon berated him. "His actions
must be put in the proper context.
The Crow murdered his pregnant Salish wife.
You must accept that the Whites
are coming to this country.
They will fill it up and make it
their own, bringing their many marvelous ways!"

"But this is our country, Mother.
This land, these rivers and mountains and plains
belong to our people, the Siksika!"

"That is intolerant!" Dreaming Moon shouted,
"We have been arrogant
people, have attacked and oppressed
so many others we
don't deserve this land."

"But why can't the Whites
stay in their own country?" Cougar-in-the-Tree asked,
"We didn't invite them!"

"It is insulting to even ask that,"
Dreaming Moon continued chiding
her seventeen-year-old son. "We
have so many privileges
just for the color of our skin
the poor Whites could never imagine!
We have the cleanest water,
the best food, so many delicious bison,
rivers swarming with nutritious salmon.
The Whites are stuck in ignorance,
their children are so many
they can't get proper educations.
It would be inhumane to not let as many
as would like to come here. How
could you want to send those poor
Whites back to live in those stinking
cesspool cities of London or New York?
Those places are full of crime and disease!
The sky is so dirty there they die
young because it is too hard
to even breathe!
Your xenophobia should make you
ashamed of yourself, Cougar-in-the-Tree!"

"I am sorry, Mother," he said with bowed head.

"Now go and get to know Mr. Johnson,"
Dreaming Moon said with a sudden smile.
"Ingratiate yourself with him and find out
if he is interested in a new wife.
Tonight I, with some of the other women,
will petition the Chief and Council
to not give this great white man over to the Crow."


entered the prisoner's teepee.
on the other side of the circular fire-pit
the big white cannibal
sat with his arms tied in front of him
and, behind him, his legs tied
together with a cord attached to his neck.
His great yellow-red beard combined
with piercing blue eyes so different
from the serene eyes of his father,
and Cougar-in-the-Tree
wondered how his mother could be
attracted to such a strange version of a man.
His father had told him years ago
on the day he left her that his mother's spirit
had been captured by dreams
that could never be.

"Water," Liver-Eating Johnson demanded.

"First a question," Cougar-in-the-Tree said.

After studying the young brave for a minute
with his manic, piercing blue eyes
the white cannibal said, "All right."

"Did you greatly love your Salish wife?
Is that why you take vengeance on the Crow?"

"I traded fairly for the Flathead woman,
two good horses and several Sioux scalps.
She belonged to me
and was obedient,
so when the Crow killed her I
began killing the Crow, one-hundred and thirty-seven so far.
I have decided that when I have killed three hundred
I will cease and become brother to the Crow again."

"Why do you eat their livers?" Cougar-in-the-Tree
asked with his head down. The white cannibal paused.

"I eat their livers because the Crow believe they cannot
get into the Happy Hunting Grounds without their livers. I eat
their livers to strike terror into their souls."

"My mother is pleading for your life before the Council. She
wants to know
if you are interested in another wife." Cougar-in-the-Tree
paused then went on, "She says that we Siksika
have so many blessings and privileges,
the best food, the best culture, the best
water, and healthy air,
that if we share
it all with you
you will be transformed and we will live
together in harmony."

there is only one real
the white cannibal said with an almost warm smile
through his great blood-soaked beard.
"Forget about wealth or superior culture,
good upbringing or good food,
the one true privilege
is having in your heart the diamond-hard resolve
to do what-ever violence
is required to subdue your personal enemies and the enemies
of your people. Now I would like you to get me some water."


Cougar-in-the-Tree re-entered the Teepee
with a bowl
of melted snow.
As he tipped the bowl to give the prisoner
his drink he noticed too late
the big white man had chewed through
his wrist binding. Liver-Eating Johnson
brought up his great fist in a powerful uppercut
that knocked the young brave semi-conscious.
The white cannibal scooted around to get to
Cougar-in-the-Tree's large knife. He cut himself free
then sawed off the young brave's right leg
at the hip joint,
cut his way out the back of the teepee, and ran
out into the snowy night with the bloody limb.

Other braves heard Cougar-in-the-Tree's
One tracked the cannibal white man
into the blackness beyond the campfires
only to be stabbed
after turning around in the blinding wind.

Liver-Eating Johnson escaped into the blizzard.
He could not be tracked in the blowing snow,
and subsisting on the raw haunch
of his former guard,
trudged over two-hundred miles into the Rocky Mountains
in the dead of winter without sleeping or making a fire,
made it to his partner Del Que's cabin.

Liver-Eating Johnson is said to have reached his goal
of three hundred Crow
killed, after which he became their brother again.

Later, Liver-Eating Johnson came down out of the mountains
and joined Lincoln's army, went to fight on the Western Front.
Confederate guerrillas in Missouri managed to shoot him multiple times
but the bushwhacker bullets were no more effective
than the Crow and Blackfoot arrows and spears.
After the war he went back to fighting Indians, mostly Sioux.

Some say he never died
and still lives in the Rocky Mountains
where no one else can go,
always ravenous
for anyone who talks loosely
about their "privilege."

© ChairmanWow (chairmanwow on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 29873
Archived comments for Liver-Eating Johnson Escapes!
amman on 18-03-2013
Liver-Eating Johnson Escapes!
You got me hooked early reading this stomach churning piece, Ralph. A most enjoyable read. Poor old 'Cougar-in-the-tree', he didn't have a leg to stand on. (Well, perhaps one).

Author's Reply:
Ha-ha, you're right about poor old Cougar-in-the-Tree. Always a pleasure to read a comment on one of my subs from you, Tony.


Mikeverdi on 18-03-2013
Liver-Eating Johnson Escapes!
Great story telling. I know of this man and a few others like him. Bear paws Meek was another, he was also in the film. There was a book called The Big Sky also about the 'Mountain Men. Mike

Author's Reply:
Appreciate the great comment Mike. I'll take a look at the novel you recommend. My favorite mountain man novel is 'Seven Rivers West' by Edward Hoagland.


Weefatfella on 19-03-2013
Liver-Eating Johnson Escapes!
 photo 390a8c45-a359-4a79-8c64-82ba272f2b94_zps941dd6b6.jpg
A terrifying story to tell kids.
Bad enough to be killed but to be eaten. Aw Naw.
Great story and brilliantly told.

Author's Reply:
Hey thanks WFF. Yes teenagers like to hear terrifying stories and watch scary movies. Something about puberty probably...


roger303 on 21-03-2013
Liver-Eating Johnson Escapes!
I enjoy(ed) writing poetry about historical events and people - the research as much as the writing. I wish that I could do it this well.

Author's Reply:
I agree with your comment Roger. When you're researching you often find more little nuggets that you can use for something else later. Thanks for the great comment.


Andrea on 21-03-2013
Liver-Eating Johnson Escapes!
Just brilliant CW! I remember that movie (Jeremiah Johnson) - long time ago now, though, '72 I believe.

Thought you might like this 🙂

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the great comment and rating Andrea. Yes it's one of my favorite movies and i own it. THe thing is the real story is so different from the movie character i had to explore it further. I guess 1972 was still too innocent a time to have a Western version of Hannibal Lecter on the big screen.