Chapple – Rixon - Panton
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
& 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:
& 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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. See also Johnson’s
Life at: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/famousSearch.cgi?mode=county&FScountyid=3133
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
Works Cited for Johnson:
1) Thorpe, Raymond W. and Robert
Bunker. Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana UP.
2) “History of Old Trail Town.” http://www.oldtrailtown.com/noframes.html
3) “A Life Wild and Perilous:
Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific”. Book by Robert M.
4) “Mountain Rendezvous, on
line at.” http://www.linecamp.com/museums/americanwest/western_places/mountain_rendezvous/mountain_rendezvous.html
‘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
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.