Thursday, May 31, 2018

Jeremiah "Liver-eater" Johnston

The marker at the gravesite of
Jeremiah "Liver-eater" Johnston in Cody, Wyoming.
Photo credit - Michael R. Ritt
Jeremiah “Liver-eater” Johnston, was born John Jeremiah Garrison in New Jersey in July of 1824. He was a giant of a man, standing six-foot-two inches, and weighing 260 pounds. Known as a mountain man and fur trapper, he also worked as a farmer, teamster, guide, and scout. Johnston also served on a whaling ship and was a private in the Union Army during the Civil War.

During the Mexican-American War, Johnston served aboard a naval ship. After striking an officer, he deserted, changed his last name from “Garrison” to “Johnston,” and headed to Colorado. There, he partnered with a mountain man named John Hatcher who taught him everything he needed to know to survive in the mountains.

The 1972 film, “Jeremiah Johnson,” starring Robert Redford and directed by Sydney Pollack, was loosely based on Johnston’s life and is responsible for perpetuating one of the biggest legends surrounding Johnston - how he got his nickname, “Liver-eater.” In the movie, “Johnson’s” wife and unborn son are killed by the Crow Indians. Johnson then goes on a life-long vendetta against the Crow, killing over three-hundred braves and eating their livers. The Crow believed that the livers were essential in order to enter the afterlife. This account is also perpetuated by the 1958 book “CROW KILLER” by Raymond Thorp and Robert Bunker, upon which the movie, Jeremiah Johnson, was based.

An alternate (and I believe more likely) account of how he got his nickname says that in 1868, Johnston, along with fifteen other men, was working as a woodhawk - someone who cuts wood to provide for the steamboats traveling up and down the Missouri River. While cutting wood along the Musselshell River near present-day Billings, Montana, the men were attacked by a group of Sioux Indians. In the fight, Johnston stabbed an Indian in the side. As he pulled out his knife, a small piece of the Indian’s liver was attached to it. As a joke, Johnston pretended to take a bite, and asked one of his companions if he “wanted a chaw.”

In the book, “Red Lodge, Saga of a Western Area,” by Shirley Zupan and Harry J. Owens, the authors quote Johnston as saying, “I was all over blood and I had the liver on my knife, but I didn’t eat none of it.” Johnston further declares, “The liver coming out was unintentional on my part.”

Johnston died January 21, 1900, in Santa Monica, California at the age of seventy-five. He was buried in a veteran’s cemetery in Los Angeles; however, on June 8, 1974, after a six-month campaign led by 25 seventh-grade students and their teacher, Johnston's remains were relocated to Cody, Wyoming. In the ceremony that accompanied his burial in Cody, one of his pallbearers was nonother than Robert Redford.


Monday, April 23, 2018

The Fight for Life...

Dead Aspen with new growth

We came home from church one Sunday last winter during a heavy snowfall to discover that one of the Aspen trees on the property had succumbed to the weight of the snow, and had fallen down blocking most of the road to the cabin.  The tree was eventually cut up and tossed to the side of the road.

This weekend, Tami walked down to get the mail out of the mailbox and came back dragging one of the larger branches so we could cut it up for the firepit. She called me over to have a look at it and we discovered that there are fresh buds growing on it! It had been cut to pieces since December, but it still wanted to spring to life.

That got me thinking of the will to live that is inherent in all living things. Your circumstances may be handing you a raw deal right now. You may be struggling with illness, finances, relationships, a job that you don’t enjoy, loneliness or depression, or a host of other things. But remember, the life that is in you is stronger than anything that can come against it. You have more strength than you think, and when faced with a fight, you can fight harder than you ever thought possible. This is the gift that God has given us. This is life.

So be like this Aspen branch. Although you may be knocked down, cut to pieces, and tossed aside, refuse to give in. Spring back to life.


Monday, February 26, 2018

The Hero Behind the Hero

Claudette Colvin in 1954
This isn’t the story that you think it is. You have undoubtedly heard a similar story of a related incident, but this isn’t that story, so keep reading…

In 1955, Montgomery, Alabama was about as segregated as any place in the country. The civil rights movement was just getting underway, and it was still another eight years before the governor of Alabama, George Wallace would give in to the pressure being applied by the federal government to desegregate Alabama’s schools.

In March of 1955, there was a young, fifteen-year-old black girl by the name of Claudette Colvin who attended the segregated Booker T. Washington High School in Montgomery. Claudette relied on the city’s buses to travel to and from school each day.

One day, Claudette was traveling home after school. She boarded the bus, paid her fair, and took her seat in the “colored” section of the bus. You see, because of Alabama’s segregation laws, there were certain seats for the white passengers, and certain seats for the colored passengers – usually in the back of the bus. On this particular day, all of the seats for the white passengers were filled up when a white woman boarded the bus. In these circumstances, it was the rule that the bus driver could make one of the colored passengers give up their seat to the white passenger, even if it meant that the colored passenger had to stand in the aisle. So the bus driver looked into his rearview mirror and ordered Claudette to give up her seat and move further back in the bus.

Claudette was an “A” student and a member of the NAACP Youth Council at her school. She had been learning about the civil rights movement and had just that day written a paper for one of her classes about how blacks were not allowed to try on clothes in department stores. Feeling frustrated over the laws that unfairly treated blacks as inferior to whites, and indignant over the bus driver’s demand, she refused to give up her seat, stating that it was her constitutional right to stay where she was. She had paid her fair, the same as the white woman had, and she was not going to give up her seat.

The bus driver got hold of a Policeman and Claudette was handcuffed and forcibly removed from the bus. She was charged with violating Alabama’s segregation laws, and spent four hours in a jail cell before being bailed out by her minister, who, rather prophetically, told her, “You have brought the revolution to Montgomery, young lady.”

The local chapter of the NAACP heard about Claudette’s arrest and decided it was time to challenge Montgomery’s bus segregation as unconstitutional. They organized a bus boycott and strategized for several months about the best way to challenge the law. They considered using Claudette’s case as the basis for their lawsuit, but nine months had elapsed since Claudette’s bus incident, and during that time, Claudette had become pregnant. The leadership within the NAACP did not think that an unwed, black, teenage girl was going to present the image that would garner the needed positive response from the white community. What they needed was someone that was mature, intelligent, and articulate; someone who knew a lot of whites and was liked by them; someone who could gain their sympathy. So they devised a plan to have someone deliberately violate the segregation laws and get arrested so that they could challenge the law in the courts.

The NAACP had the perfect young woman working as a secretary right in their office; a woman named Rosa Parks.

You all know her story. You have all heard how on December 1st, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the colored section of the bus for a white woman; Rosa Parks, whom the United States Congress called the “first lady of civil rights” and the “mother of the freedom movement.” What you may not have known is that it was all a set-up. Rosa Parks was just repeating what had already been done by a fifteen-year-old girl nine months earlier, in order to get the case into the courts.

Rosa Parks went on to become an icon of the civil rights movement. She received numerous honors and awards, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal. She was awarded two dozen honorary doctorates from universities around the world. She has schools, libraries, and highways named in her honor and in 2014, Asteroid #284996 was named the Rosa Parks asteroid.

Claudette, on the other hand, was branded a troublemaker by many in the community after her bus incident, and she wound up having to drop out of school. She had difficulty finding work, and in 1958 she moved to New York. She found a job as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home, where she remained for 35 years, in obscurity and anonymity, never getting the recognition that she deserved.


Monday, December 18, 2017

The Great and Awful Burden of My Intellect…

The other day, I was telling my redheaded sweetheart about a friend who was taking time off of work to have a medical procedure done.

“What’s wrong with him?’ she inquired.

“He has ‘very close veins,’” I answered back.

She gave me one of those looks that I have become all too familiar with. It’s a kind of blank expression that signals to me that I have broached a subject with her that is beyond her comprehension. I have to keep reminding myself that she graduated high school in only three years, whereas I took my time and managed to make a five and a half year journey through the hallowed halls of Poynette High (Go Indians!). Obviously, I learned a lot more during my extensive academic career than she did during her brief encounter with higher learning.

“What are you talking about?” she asked, confirming my suspicion.

“He’s going to have laser surgery to remove his VERY-CLOSE-VEINS.” I raised my voice slightly and said the words slowly in an effort to facilitate communication. Tami always appreciates it when I do that.

“What are very close veins?”

The tenor of her voice led me to believe that she really had no idea what I was talking about. I thought back over the past (almost) twenty-nine years that we have been married. If I had a nickel for every time that I had to explain something to her, I could buy her a decent set of encyclopedias which she could use to further her education. It would be nice to have an intellectual equal to converse with. It can be lonely being a person of great intellectual prowess, but it does give me a sense of fraternity with some of the early Greek philosophers such as Sucrets and Pluto.

“Very close veins,” I instructed, “is a condition where the veins in your legs push outward and get very close to the surface. That’s why they are called ‘very close veins.’”

She rolled her eyes, shook her head, and gave a big sigh, obviously frustrated with her lack of knowledge. “I think you mean ‘varicose veins.’”

I have noticed something about Tami, and other people for that matter. Oftentimes when they don’t have any useful information to contribute to a conversation, rather than keep silent, they will dig the hole deeper by trying to sound intelligent – even to the point of making up words like ‘varicose veins.’

I think that Tami is often jealous of the fact that I am the writer in the family. Sometimes it gets the better of her and she will make some poor (but adorable) attempt at word-smithing, making up her own words for every-day, common things. She will even make up words and apply them to me, which is what she did next.

She turned to face me, and, with her hands on her hips, she said, “You are a verifiable ignoramus!”

She could have kept it simple and just said that I was brilliant, or a genius, or just a really-really-really smart guy; but she had to embarrass herself by describing my intellectual acumen with some meaningless, made-up word.

I smiled and tried to put my arm around her. “You don’t have to do that, you know. I don’t mind your limited vocabulary. It’s okay with me that we are not intellectual equals.”

She pushed me away; her eyes wide; a lone tear about to spill over the causeway of her rosy cheek. “You and I will NEVER be intellectual equals!”

“Now honey,” I replied, “you shouldn’t talk like that. You know I hate it when you make self-defecating comments.”

She stood with her mouth hanging open and stared at me like I had a third eye or something. “The word is ‘self-deprecating,’ not ‘self-defecating! There is no such word as ‘self-defecating.”

“There most certainly is,” I gently corrected her. “Self-defecation is when you get depressed and you make insulting comments about yourself; basically crapping all over yourself.”

She threw her arms in the air and stormed out of the front door. I saw her heading up the path to the top of the mountain behind our cabin. She likes to take a walk sometimes when she is feeling frustrated and inadequate.

As I watched her heading up the path, arms flailing about, yelling something I couldn’t quite make out, I felt sorry for her and decided that I needed to do something to cheer her up. Christmas is just around the corner. Maybe I’ll buy her those encyclopedias anyways.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Review - "Go West Young Woman" by Nancy Quinn

The story of America is the story of westward expansion. There were the Pilgrims and early colonists who crossed the Atlantic to reach the shores of New England. Braving storms, disease, and uncertainty, they endured harsh and crowded conditions on their ships in order to have a new, better life in the western “New World.” Men like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Simon Kenton felt the call of the west, and helped to pioneer the western expansion across the Appalachians and down the Ohio River valley toward the Mississippi. Spurred on by accounts from Lewis and Clark, and the Corp of Discovery, mountain men like Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, and Hugh Glass crossed the Great Plains to trap beaver in the icy rivers and streams of the Rocky Mountains.

Many adjectives could be used to describe their experiences, but “easy” would never be one of them. It was a difficult way of life, and those answering the call of the west had to face any number of challenges in their efforts to conquer and subdue the land. The blazing summer sun was contrasted by freezing winter snows that could continue for days. Downpours of rain that could cause flash floods were met by drought, dust, and blowing sand. The winds could be so heavy on the plains that they often drove the pioneer women mad. Besides the weather, there were the native inhabitants to deal with as well; Indians, grizzlies, mountain lions, wolves, and a host of others.

It was Horace Greeley who, in the mid 19th century, was credited with saying, “Go west young man, and grow up with the country.” With national policies like Manifest Destiny, and legislation such as the Homestead Act, tens of thousands took the advice. Even more poured into the western territories with the discovery of gold and silver in places like California, Colorado, Nevada, and the Black Hills.

Much has changed over the past two hundred years. The ease and speed of modern transportation has made the Conestoga wagon a thing of the past. Amenities provided at nearly every exit off of the Interstate mean that people no longer have to sleep outside under the stars, or hunt for their evening meal. But other things still remain the same as they were for those early pioneers. Although they may be a dying breed, many people still hear the call of the west, and never rest satisfied until they see towering, snow-capped peaks and fill their lungs with cool, clean mountain air.

Go West Young Woman,” by Nancy Quinn, is the story of one such modern pioneer family who answer the westward call, giving up their lives on the beltway in Washington, DC to move to the mountains of western Montana. Although the times have changed, many of the challenges remain the same, including encounters with predators like grizzlies and mountain lions; severe weather; and learning to live peacefully with the native inhabitants (cows, ranchers, loggers, etc.).

Nancy Quinn has an easy to read, almost conversational, anecdotal style of writing that makes it seem as if you are sitting down with her over a cup of coffee, listening to the latest adventures of her family, dogs, horses, or the numerous animal visitors that frequent their mountain property. Written with warmth and humor, you will find yourself moving effortlessly from chapter to chapter as Nancy, her husband, Bill, and their two daughters face one new challenge and adventure after another; and when you are finished, you will wonder, right along with me, how long will it be before the next book comes out!

Nancy has a background in conservation law enforcement, and has spent many hours in wildlife rehabilitation. This gives her a perspective into wildlife that helps to inform her writing. But not only is she a gifted writer, she is an award winning, internationally known wildlife artist. Nancy writes about her artwork:

“I believe art has a purpose other than decorating our walls. I think it can touch our minds and our hearts. When I sit down to create art, I think about how best to give an animal or bird a soul and how to foster an emotion on canvas, paper, or precious metal. If I can have a positive effect in someone's life, then my work has served an important purpose.”

Whether you are reading her book or enjoying her art, you will have made a friend in Nancy Quinn; and you will have experienced what so many of our pioneers and early adventurers have experienced – a love, admiration, and respect of the American west that still lives on today.

Her artwork can be viewed here on her website.

You can check out Nancy’s blog here.

You can connect with Nancy on her Facebook page.


Monday, November 13, 2017

The "Bear" Facts About One of Hollywood's Finest...

Bart and Trainer Doug Seus
Bart the Bear (1977-2000) is arguably one of the best known animal actors of all time, staring in twenty-two motion pictures and television shows. His film credits include The Great Outdoors, with John Candy; The Edge, with Anthony Hopkins; and On Deadly Ground, with Steven Seagal. Bart also starred in several westerns such as Legends of the Fall, Windwalker, White Fang, and Louis L’Amour’s Down the Long Hills.

Bart was born at the Baltimore Zoo and was subsequently adopted by animal trainers, Doug and Lynn Seus. Bart got his first acting job as a cub, appearing in the television series, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, playing the part of Ben – Adams’ companion grizzly – as a cub.

As an adult Alaskan Brown bear, Bart stood nine and a half feet tall and weighed over seventeen hundred pounds. As an actor, Bart reportedly earned $10,000.00 a day. The money was used to start the Vital Ground Foundation, an environmental land trust which works to protect and promote grizzly bear populations through wildlife habitat conservation.

Bart was diagnosed with cancer in October of 1998. He underwent two separate surgeries, but the cancer persisted. He was euthanized in May of 2000 at the age of twenty-three, and is buried on the Seus ranch near Heber City, Utah.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Frankenspider and the Mouse…

I was recently reminded of an incident that occurred several years ago while we were still living in Colorado. One day my redheaded sweetheart, Tami, was putting something away under the kitchen sink. All of a sudden, I heard her scream as she quickly backed away from what she was doing. The mouse trap under the sink had done its job and had caught a mouse. For some reason, Tami has developed an aversion to mice that she never had when we were first married. Of course, I just laughed at her silly fear. I mean mice are so cute and fury, who could be afraid of them?

Being the big, strong he-man protector of my wife and home, I volunteered to dispose of the remains. I picked up the trap, with its contents and headed outside to toss the fury little carcass into the trees and brush behind the propane tank where I had unceremoniously dispatched previous mouse cadavers.

As I opened the door and prepared to step down onto the first of two steps that led to the walkway, I spotted a spider that – and I kid you not – was the size of a Volkswagen Beatle! Frankenspider saw me and JUMPED up the first step right toward me. I screamed, dropped the mouse and slammed the door.

Tami steadfastly refused to go outside because of the dead mouse. I was just as adamant that I wasn’t going outside because of Frankenspider. I rested all of my hopes on the possibility that Frankenspider would satisfy his hunger by eating the mouse, and he would leave us alone.

Eventually, he moved on to terrorize some of the other villagers, which is a good thing, because, if he hadn’t left, I would have been forced to call 911 again, which I am loath to do. Ever since the time I called to tell them about the flying monkeys that were eating all of our crabapples, they don’t seem to take me serious. Can you imagine someone not taking me serious?!?