The question about whether the mountain man’s last name was Johnson or Johnston has come up a number of times. “All the vintage accounts had him as Johnson, and he often signed his name that way. However, he did sign it as Johnston on legal documents,” says Nathan Bender, former curator of the McCracken Research Library at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming.
Much of what is claimed about Johnson came from Raymond Thorp’s book Crow Killer, but his sources are vague. Vardis Fisher then wrote his novel Mountain Man, which romanticized Johnson/Johnston. The two works became a movie in 1972, starring Robert Redford in the title role as “Jeremiah” Johnson.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org