Esteban del Mal's Reviews > Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson

Crow Killer by Raymond W. Thorp
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Apr 09, 2012

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bookshelves: americana, special-snowflake, western, library-loan

All of the Conrad, none of the guilt!

A sight met her passengers which was certainly calculated to shock the nerves of any eastern tenderfoot. Along the brink of the river bank on both sides of the landing a row of stakes was planted, and each stake carried a white, grinning Indian skull. They were evidently the pride of the inhabitants, and a little to one side, as if guarding them, stood a trapper, well-known throughout eastern Montana by the sobriquet of 'Liver-Eating' Johnson. He was leaning on a crutch, with one leg bandaged and the day being hot his entire dress consisted of a scant, much shrunken, red undershirt, reaching just below his hips. His matted hair and bushy beard fluttered in the breeze, and his giant frame and limbs, so freely exposed to view, formed an exceedingly impressive and characteristic picture. -- Peter Koch of the steamer Huntsville

Equal parts Paul Bunyan, Hannibal Lecter, Horatio Alger, and Wild Boy of Aveyron, this book presents itself as a work of historical non-fiction, but is nothing more than a mash of anecdotes surrounding the life of one of the American frontier's more formidable mountain men. The authors trace his thread through the pioneering mythology of the west, the bits of dialogue reading like some sort of Treasure Island pidgin. While the neutered language may frame the action in a way to make it palatable to the delicate sensibilities of its audience, the action itself would give pause even to Old Testament Yahweh. The technique proves jarring, and the resulting narrative is more a window into the mid-century mindset than that of the nineteenth it professes to chronicle.

Liver-Eating Johnson, apparently inured to both pain and preternatural gore, really only wanted to trap beavers and play house with his squaw wife until a group of young Crow warriors butcher her. Johnson, his inner sociopath triggered, declares war on the entire Crow nation and systematically dispatches them wherever they can be found. His preference is to humiliate them by kicking them and eating the still warm livers from their corpses when time allows. The Crow become the laughing stock of the plains until years later, when they and Johnson make peace.

In the meantime, the frontier is giving way to Anglo-Saxon moxie. Railroads, mining towns, brothels, ranchers and the like begin to displace both the mountain men and natives. Readers are invited to mourn this dislocation in some sort of knee-jerk romanticized Golden Age way, but this invitation, jocularly couched in the homespun witticisms of scalp hungry psychotics, belies the (and I quote) "mechanical precision" with which Native Americans had previously been slaughtered by Johnson and other mountain men. You see, it isn't so much that violence in and of itself is bad, merely the disposition of those who would practice it. The mountain men, libertarian Übermenschen all, were justified in their actions -- it was, after all, a cottage industry. It's not as if they had been exploiting unspoiled nature to sell it back to the eastern dandies they professed to so abhor and, in so doing, laying the groundwork for exploitation on an industrialized level.

Johnson supposedly never liked to take credit for his manly feats, instead deferring to others. In this, he would likewise be proved unknowingly prescient: Hollywood, in 1972, used the story of the man's life as the basis for the movie Jeremiah Johnson. Regrettably, the deranged Santa of yore would be portrayed by the voguish tenderfoot of the day.
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Reading Progress

April 9, 2012 – Started Reading
April 9, 2012 – Shelved
April 10, 2012 –
page 88
45.83% "I don't know why this guy got so upset that Crow warriors killed his wife and unborn child. From what I've read, I think he just would've eventually scalped and eaten them himself anyway."
April 10, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-36 of 36) (36 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Jesus, del Mal. Helluva review.

Esteban del Mal Thank you, C.

message 3: by Manny (new)

Manny I second Ceridwen. Excellent work!

Esteban del Mal Thanks, Manny.

message 5: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez I saw your name in the 'reviews only' feed and had to do a double-take. Excellent comeback! And Tarantino didn't even have to cast you in anything!

Esteban del Mal Just the worms. He's buried in L.A. somewhere. I thought I might try to look him up this summer so as to dance on his grave whilst partaking of some tofu liver. Tofiver.

message 7: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Bird Brian wrote: "the question is, did anybody eat Johnson?"


Esteban del Mal Oh. Now I get it.

Well, after his wife was killed, he mostly just hung out with a bunch of men. Burly men. What the gay community celebrates as "Bears." So, yes. Obviously.

message 9: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez I don't think BB technically meant it the way I read it. That shit's straight Freudian.

Esteban del Mal But obviously sexuality is a choice because he was all about trapping beavers before that.

message 11: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Beaver pun! Pun with beavers!

Esteban del Mal This place is a Freudian wet dream. A Freudian wet dream's wet dream. Inside a taco that's inside a burrito.

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)


message 14: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Esteban wrote: "Inside a taco that's inside a burrito."

Wait, wouldn't the burrito fit inside the taco?

message 15: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! (psst, it's fellatio)

message 16: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Um, sorry. I can lend a hand, but that's it.

message 17: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez A poem based on BB and Eh?!'s exchange:

inside the taco
Lend a hand.

message 18: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Also, you guys are gross and I am offended.

message 19: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Shut your taco!

message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

You should get it tattooed on your taco.

Esteban del Mal Me too. People are going to come to this review in the hopes of gaining some insight into a guy that ate the fresh livers of his enemies and instead be subjected to Brian and Eh's pixelated keyboard fucking.

message 22: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Cross-stitch it and send it to an elderly relative.

message 23: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Can you pay to have it printed on an Austin billboard, preferably in the ritzy West Lake area where I work? These assholes need something to briefly distract them from their malicious entitlement while they drive their Beamers and Benzes.

message 24: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez There are no trucks in West Lake Hills. There is breathtaking scenery, 16 year old kids driving 2012 Audis, and magical rich people in ridiculous clothes who cough hundred dollar bills. And there's me.

message 25: by Steve (new)

Steve Outstanding review!

Esteban del Mal Thanks!

message 27: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Maybe...the Donner party and the soccer team ate their own. Johnson ate his enemies?

(psst, it's vendetta)

Esteban del Mal Duh. They were just Injuns. Don't get your panties in a wad, Brian.

message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

(psst, it's fellatio.)

message 30: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez (psst, it's engines)

message 31: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! (psst, it's pantaloons)

message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

(psst, it's dromaesaurids)

message 33: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! (psst, it's Dromaesaurid Brian)

message 34: by Miriam (new)

Miriam dance on his grave whilst partaking of some tofu liver

May I recommend garnishing that with some vegan caviar, for that effete eastern elite touch?

Esteban del Mal Good idea! I'm ok with real caviar, tho'. I'm more a pescetarian than a vegetarian. And I never met a vegan whose liver I haven't wanted to eat.

message 36: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I'm not vegetarian at all, I just like seaweed caviar better than the real kind.

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