Yellowstone County Miscellaneous

Chapple – Rixon - Panton

(Yellowstone County Information Sources) 

Revised 8 May 2002 [Added notes to Johnson]

 No town would be complete without a written and photographic history of the events that took place, and Charles Chapple was one who provided that service for a long time. Most of the early day pictures of Yellowstone Valley are from his collections, many of which are shared by the libraries and the Forum. Charles John Chapple was born in Bowmanville, Ontario on March 9, 1877. He married Jane Winifred Rixon (daughter of John Rixon[1] & Susannah Panton) on June 12 1901. John Rixon and wife Susanna Panton had seven other children. William Panton Rixon worked for the Chapple Drug store for a while then became a real estate and insurance agent. Frederick Panton Rixon, also a druggist, became city and county treasurer, and a member of the Montana House. S. P. Panton was the first reporter for the Billings Gazette. He arrived here in 1881 at age 33 to work for NPR survey team. His job was to record his impressions of the effort for the eastern and Canadian papers. From 1881 through 1887 he met and recorded interviews with most of the early-day characters and prominent persons.

Panton Memoirs of Yellowstone

Most of the information handed down over the century of the early settlers and travelers in the county come from his reports published in the Billings Gazette. They form a foundation of events as they were at the time. Some highlights of the interesting characters, their comments and events he interviewed in his own words are:

Ryan & Flannigan (Saloon Owner in Billings) Fight Promotion

This was an impromptu affair arranged to have ‘Liver Eating” Johnson, age 62, agreed to a little ‘sport’ behind the saloon with a professional fighter touring the area taking on all-comers. Johnson saw no need for gloves. His first blow sent the professional boxer through a board fence, and his second blow convinced the fighter that he wasn’t in the same class as Johnson.

Liver Eating Johnson’s Nickname

Accounts vary as to why or how he got the name, but generally it appears that in July of 1870 Mrs Captain Hawley was picking Juneberries with an Indian Squaw about 300 yards from a post on the Musselshell River when she was hit in the neck by a bullet from a Sioux war party of nine men. Johnson and nine others found the woman, scalped, but alive. They pursued the Indians intent on killing all. Johnson reported he removed a liver from one of the Indians, who may or may not have been dead when he started to cut it out, and asked “who would take his liver rare?” Blood from Johnson’s chin may have added a little color to the story, as some accounts state the Indians were “quartered, piled, and scalps taken” by the group. Whether or not Johnson actually ate any of the liver was never revealed.[Reported by Panton]

[In the fall of 1843, the steamboat Thames from St. Louis transported Johnson to the St. Joseph eddy in the Blacksnake Hills of Wyoming. Three years later, he became well known to the steamboat captains as a reliable supplier of wood for their boilers. At this time, the Crazy Woman saga depicted in the movie, Jeremiah Johnson, actually took place as Indians in the Musselshell River basin of the Rockies massacred Jane Morgan’s family. Johnson tracked down and killed all of her assailants. In 1847, Johnston’s pregnant Flathead Indian wife was killed and scalped by a raiding party of Crow Indians while he was away hunting. Barely a year later, his infamous war against the whole tribe of Crows was well known and established. He would eat the liver of his slain enemies as a sign that he had conquered yet another killer of his young Indian squaw. This gruesome practice earned him the title of Dapiek Absaroka (Crow Killer) by the Indians, and, more generally, “Liver-Eating” Johnson. For more than twenty years he maintained a solitary, wary, daily mortal battle with the Crows. In 1869 he made a peace with them.][2]

Johnson settled on a Yellowstone River island to raise cabbages, but after one hot summer they could only be sold for three cents a pound he told Panton “I’ll go and build me a cabin in the mountains where I can kill all I want to eat and I’ll never work again.” He built his cabin near the stage station at Red Lodge.

Note:   1) The above article, reported by Patton from the Billings Gazette archives might be in error (if not actually fiction).  Please refer to article published by:  Raymond W. Thorpe and Robert Bunker.  Crow Killer:  The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson.  Bloomington, Indiana:  Indiana UP.  1958, re-released in paperback - 1988. Information provided by: E John Martin See also Johnson’s Life at:

2) Radio Spot for KDWG “People in Montana’s History”, presented by E. John Martin presented below provides a detailed historical summary of Johnson’s life, along with excellent references.


John Johnston:  Mountain Man

“When mention is made of mountain men of the American West the image of a bearded, buckskin clad fur trapper, alone in the wilderness, is probably the first that comes to mind.  The setting would be the 1820’s, ‘30’s or maybe even the 1840’s when, for the most part, that era ended (in the minds of many).  Images of the rendezvous may come to mind, where a collection of mountain men, Indians, traders and ‘what nots’ assembled each summer for trading, liquor, games of skill and re-supply for their next trapping season (Rendezvous).  You may have heard of Jim Bridger, Kit Carson or even Hugh Glass, but the most notorious mountain man may have been John Johnston, a.k.a. Liver-Eating Johnson.

            Arriving on the scene in St. Joe, Missouri in the fall of 1843, Johnston got himself outfitted with the necessities of a trapper, a .30 caliber Hawken rifle, a Bowie knife, some traps and a horse, then headed west (Thorpe 25-26).  Where he came from nobody seems to know, but the 20-year-old greenhorn was to become a legend in his own time leaving an indelible legacy. 

He took up with Old John Hatcher, a mountain man of some repute, and learned how to be a mountain man himself—and how to stay alive.  Johnston was an apt student, and stayed with Hatcher at his cabin on the Little Snake River in Northern Colorado.  When Hatcher left the mountains in 1846, Johnston took over the cabin set out with a new trapping partner, Del Gue, but life wasn’t the same.  Hatcher had a couple of Cheyenne women that did all the chores for the two of them and when he left had sent them packing.

Now, Johnston wasn’t too keen on doing his own cooking (Thorpe 40), so in the summer of 1847 he set out for the Flathead (Salish) camps in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, south of present day Missoula.  The previous year, a sub chief had offered his daughter, ‘The Swan,’ to Johnston in a trade, but now he was looking for a wife.  The appropriate exchanges were made, and he and The Swan left on the return trip to the Little Snake.  During their time on the trail, Johnson gave her a rifle, powder and ball and taught her to shoot so she would have meat during the winter while he was gone trapping.  Out of respect for her, he learned to speak Salish.  By the time they reached the cabin it was early fall, and after setting up stores for her comfort, he set out for the winter’s trapping (Thorpe 42-44).

Sometime in the summer of 1848, the scalped and mutilated bodies of Crow warriors “and only Crow warriors” began appearing throughout the Northern Rockies and the plains of Wyoming and Montana—wherever the Crow roamed.  The mutilation found on each warrior was always the same, a slit beneath the ribs and livers removed.  In time, it became known that Johnston was carrying on a one-man war with the Crow, killing, scalping and eating the livers of his victims.  From that point forward, Johnston was known as the “Crow Killer” or simply “Liver-Eating Johnson” (Thorpe 51).  It wasn’t known initially what set Johnston on the trail of the Crow, but in time, it was learned that Johnston was on a mission of vengeance.

In the spring, he returned to the cabin only to find the bones of The Swan in the doorway, victim of a Crow hunting party.  Amongst the bones was a small skull about the size of a grapefruit, his unborn child.  He took care gathering the bones and secreting them in a crevice among the rocks and hid their location from predators, man and beast alike (Thorpe 47).  From that moment, no Crow warrior was safe from his wrath (Thorpe 48).  In time, the Crow sent 20 handpicked warriors on the trail of the Crow Killer.  None would return (Thorpe 68-69).

Johnston lived a long and adventurous life.  He was a mountain man’s mountain man.  Later in life, he was marshal of Red Lodge, Montana.  His last days found him in a Los Angeles Veterans Home, and in 1900, he died and was buried there.  In 1974, his remains were exhumed and he was reburied in “Old Trail Town” near Cody, Wyoming, a more fitting resting place for this man of the wilderness (History).

In 1972, the movie “Jeremiah Johnson” was released.  It was loosely based on the life of John Johnston, but if you want the real story, read Crow Killer:  The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson by Raymond W. Thorpe and Robert Bunker.  A Life Wild and Perilous : Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific by Robert M. Utley has additional material about Johnston and other mountain men of the American West.”

Works Cited for Johnson:

1) Thorpe, Raymond W. and Robert Bunker.  Crow Killer:  The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson.  Bloomington, Indiana:  Indiana UP.  1958.

2) “History of Old Trail Town.”

3) “A Life Wild and Perilous:  Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific”. Book by Robert M. Utley

4) “Mountain Rendezvous, on line at.”


Sheriff ‘Muggins’ Taylor

‘Muggins’ was the scout for Custer who carried the news of his defeat from the Little Bighorn to Helena. In 1881 when he first met ‘Muggins’ in Coulson, he was complaining about the bacon and groceries he bought from the McAdow store; “it is a serious condition when a man has to buy meat to provision him through the hunt.” Taylor was later killed by a man he tried to arrest, while he was deputy sheriff.

“Uncle Billy” Hamilton

When Bill Hamilton was first in Coulson in the winter of 1881, Panton did not become well acquainted with him. Later, during a fishing trip on the Stillwater River with Walter and J. D. Matheson, Panton found Hamilton in a log cabin trying to assimilate a book of statutes following his election as justice of the peace. Bill got drunk at fairly regular intervals and would head for the river repeating: “I am drunk” and plunge into the icy water, only to emerge from the ice cakes fairly sober.

“Crow” Davis

Even during these early days, the initiation of Davis into the Independent Order of Red Men, Panton wrote that he underwent every device of torture that could be thought up. Davis was ready for more torture, largely to entertain Billy Webb (secretary of state from Helena). The next day, Davis was found wandering about the prairie in a dazed condition.

Davis had a ranch on the Crow Reservation, on the west side of the Clark Fork River where it enters the Yellowstone. This was where his Indian wife, half-breed children, and his wife’s relatives camped. Panton started a rumor (unknown to Davis) that when voting rights were offered to the Indians, he would have the controlling vote. Davis headed to Helena anticipating a royal reception. Panton arranged for Walter Matheson to meet “Crow” there, and after a high time in Helena “Crow” returned convinced that the Indians would be getting voting rights.

“Yankee Jim” Bridger

Panton described Bridger as a genial fellow who had never seen a railroad but was ready to squeeze anything he could from the Northern Pacific. “Yankee Jim” had a toll road through the second canyon of the Yellowstone (valley area between Livingston and Gardiner). He built a cabin on each line run by the railroad so as to improve his bargaining power.  After encroaching on his land the railroad built him a new toll road higher up the slopes of the canyon.

General Brisbin

General Brisbin published a book “The Beef Bonanza” in the early 1870’s, trying to entice easterners to invest in cattle in Montana. Enthusiastic people arrived in Billings in 1882 to see what was so great, and as a result of his book, they referred to the town as the Magic City, and Payton recalls the credit for the name goes to the General.

Horace Countryman

In 1881, Panton and others, as part of a survey team who were locating the railroad’s Yellowstone division up-river from Coulson, saw a quiver of arrows outside the stage door station at Stillwater (Columbus), place owed by Horace who was “absolute ruler” of the station. Horace heard the men speculating as to whether the arrows were Crow or Sioux. Horace volunteered to show the scalp he took from the former owner, a Sioux chief.

Horace had a running feud with the Indian agent, with neither willing to let the other anchor a cable for a ferry on the side of the Yellowstone that each controlled. This caused travelers headed for the old Crow Agency (near Absarokee) to ford the river by themselves.

In October the survey team received word by mail that Congress had decided against any railroad in the park, and the survey team hiked down the West Gallatin to the town of Bozeman. On the way back to Coulson, Panton described Clark City (Livingston) as a tent settlement in October, but a rip-roaring young city with 93 saloons before Christmas.

[1] John Rixon arrived in Billings in 1882 to work for the Herald Gazette. He was 50 at the time.

[2] (Bio by Bob Dollenmayer) Old Trail Town Cemetery, Cody, Park County, Wyoming, USA

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Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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