GLO in the News: Jeremiah Johnson

This General Land Office Record of the Week is based on a legendary Wild West character, Jeremiah Johnson. You may have heard of Johnson through the 1972 film starring Robert Redford. But more important, Johnson’s personal history is revealed through records in the GLO collection.

A Brief Stint in the Navy
There are many stories behind the man. Depending on who you ask, some are true and some are not. Johnson himself was also known to perpetuate his own rumors, which doesn’t help historians. Jeremiah Johnson was a name concocted for the movie, but his real name was John Johnston, one he gave himself after being kicked out of the Navy for striking an officer during the Mexican-American War.

Heading to the Mountains
After his expulsion from the Navy, Johnson headed to the mountains in search of a life of solitude. As the story goes, his first stop was a cabin on the Little Snake River in northern Colorado. He honed his trapping, hunting, and survival skills with a more seasoned mountain man that he had befriended, Old John Hatcher.

After developing the necessary skills to survive in the wilderness, Johnson headed out on his own. During his travels, he married a native of the Flathead tribe and began to settle into his new life.

However, we wouldn’t still be telling his tales if Johnson had simply lived out his days as a mountain man. Legend has it that his pregnant wife was murdered and scalped by the territorial Crow tribe while he was out hunting. This led to Johnston seeking great revenge against the Crow.

Conflict with the Crow Indians
Johnson’s legendary confrontation with the Crow gained him much notoriety, as he is famed to have gone on a years-long rampage throughout the Northern Rocky Mountains, slaying many of his adversaries along the way. Whether that’s true or not will depend on which version of the story you believe.

Settling Down in Montana
It’s said that after all the bloodshed, Johnson and the Crow made amends. Johnson then headed to Red Lodge, Montana, where he earned title to 160 acres under the authority of the Homestead Act of 1862, and lived the latter part of his life as the town Constable.

Through all the hearsay, what is certain is that John Johnson’s patented land is documented on the GLO website in Township 8 South Range 20 East, just south of Red Lodge.

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