“If the myth gets bigger than the man, print the myth.”
– Dorothy M. Johnson
The lady who wrote Westerns.
And good ones.
Three became films: ‘A Man Called Horse’, ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence’, and ‘The Hanging Tree’. Few authors – Western or otherwise – can claim such success. And at least one ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence’ is considered a Western Classic.
Further, ‘A Man Called Horse‘ spawned two sequel films: ‘The Return of a Man Called Horse‘ (1976) and ‘Triumphs of a Man Called Horse‘ (1983).
A Man Called Horse was originally a short story – published in Collier’s magazine in 1950.
Later adapted to an 1958 episode of the “Wagon Train” TV show entitled “A Man Called Horse.”
Then re-published in 1968 in her book called Indian Country.
In 1957, the Western Writers of America gave her its highest award, the Spur Award, for her short story, Lost Sister, a short story in “The Hanging Tree” collection …
In 2005, a 30-minute documentary film was made of her life by Sue Hart of Montana State University, Billings entitled Gravel in her Gut and Spit in her Eye, and shown on PBS in November 2005.
A Man Called Horse
by Dorothy M. Johnson
He was a young man of good family, as the phrase went in the New England of a hundred-odd years ago, and the reasons for his bitter discontent were unclear, even to himself. He grew up in the gracious old Boston home under his grandmother’s care, for his mother had died in giving him birth; and all his life he had known every comfort and privilege his father’s wealth could provide.
But still there was the discontent, which puzzled him because he could not even define it. He wanted to live among his equals—people who were no better than he and no worse either. That was as close as he could come to describing the source of his unhappiness in Boston and his restless desire to go somewhere else.
In the year 1845, he left home and went out west, far beyond the country’s creeping frontier, where he hoped to find his equals. He had the idea that in Indian country, where there was danger, all white men were kings, and he wanted to be one of them. But he found, in the West as in Boston, that the men he respected were still his superiors, even if they could not read, and those he did not respect weren’t worth talking to.
He did have money, however, and he could hire the men he respected. He hired four of them, to cook and hunt and guide and be his companions, but he found them not friendly.
They were apart from him and he was still alone. He still brooded about his status in the world, longing for his equals.
On a day in June, he learned what it was to have no status at all. He became a captive of a small raiding party of Crow Indians.
He heard gunfire and the brief shouts of his companions around the bend of the creek just before they died, but he never saw their bodies. He had no chance to fight, because he was naked and unarmed, bathing in the creek, when a Crow warrior seized and held him.
His captor let him go at last, let him run. Then the lot of them rode him down for sport, striking him with their coup sticks. They carried the dripping scalps of his companions, and one had skinned off Baptiste’s black beard as well, for a trophy.
They took him along in a matter-of-fact way, as they took the captured horses. He was unshod and naked as the horses were, and like them he had a rawhide thong around his neck. So long as he didn’t fall down, the Crows ignored him. Continue reading