Tall Tales: Debunked or Confirmed
The Jeremiah Johnston Connection
My father Steve, asked me to check into a tale he had been told by an old logger by the name of Jack Johnstone. My father was a young impressionable boy of fourteen years and the story he was told around the campfire after a long day of logging in the wilds of Alaska left a lasting impression. As a child I remember having to watch the movie Jeremiah Johnson over and over. Clearly my father was still inspired by the tall tale told to him so many years earlier. Jack Johnstone of Ketchikan, Alaska told the tale that he was a direct descendent of Jeremiah Johnston, famous and infamous mountain man.
The first step to debunk or confirm this tall tale was to learn as much about Jeremiah Johnston’s life. Here is what was found. Jeremiah Johnston was in fact born Jeremiah Garrison to Isaac and Eliza Garrison July 1824 in Little York, New Jersey. He had a very rough childhood with a father that was abusive. Isaac Garrison thought nothing of sending his small children out to work off his debts. Jeremiah had at least one brother who died fighting during the Civil War and two sisters, both of whom had children. Due to the abuse suffered during his formative learning years, Jeremiah grew up scrappy, a fighter and a survivor which would serve and hinder him throughout his life.
At the age of twelve, Jeremiah left home to work on a schooner hunting whales. After a while Jeremiah became bored and joined the Navy. His violent nature got the better of him and he knocked out his commanding officer. It was thirty days before Jeremiah could go ashore. Once on dry land he disappeared. Fearing reprisal of desertion Jeremiah changed his name to Jeremiah Johnston and ventured out into the wilds of the west. Trapping and gold mining became his new occupation. He wandered all the way to California, the back to the east towards Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. As he went he gained a bad rap as a violent drunk and known to be a fighter you didn’t want to mess with. During his travels he met up with his friend and business partner J. X. Beidler. The two men were cut from the same cloth. Together they started bootlegging alcohol to the Natives.
In the 1880’s Jeremiah quit his rough and dangerous way of living. He became a lawman around Billings Montana. At the age of 70 he retired and took one last trip to Tombstone Arizona. On his return he took sick and was shipped off to Los Angeles California where he spent the last year of his life. He died in January of 1900.
For more detail of Jeremiah Garrison Johnston check out this website dedicated to this colorful mountain man. http://www.johnlivereatingjohnston.com/home
It should be noted at this time that Jeremiah had no known children.
Jack Johnstone was the son of Charles Roscoe Johnstone and Dora Ida Hanna. Charles Roscoe Johnstone was born 6 Aug 1861 in Pineville, Bell County, Kentucky. He was the son of Stephen Johnson of Virginia and Abigail W Johnson of Ohio.
Charles and Dora’s first child, Forrest, was born 1891 in Kansas. By 1892 second child, Frank, was born in Saguache Colorado. Wyoming was the Johnstone’s next stop. There they stayed for at least three years. Jack Johnstone was born 1903 in British Columbia. Three more Johnstone children were born in Canada before the family settled in the small south-east Alaskan town of Ketchikan about 1915.
Jack Johnstone’s lineage is readily available to any researcher worth their salt. His father was Charles Roscoe Johnstone. His grandfather was Stephen Johnson who was born 1816 in Virginia and died 1894 in Kansas. Stephen was born eight years before Jeremiah Garrison Johnston and in a different state. Also we must remember that Jeremiah’s original surname was Garrison. Stephen was born with the surname of Johnson.
The closest connection that the Johnstone family has with Johnston is that they were in the same area at the same time. Steven Johnstone and his sister Ruth were born in Wyoming in 1894 and 1896. Jeremiah G Johnston was a lawman in Billings at that time. There is a possibility that they may have crossed paths or at the least the Johnstone family heard about the already legendary man. Unless Dora had an unknown affair with Jeremiah, who was nearing seventy years old, with Steven or Ruth Johnstone as the product, I don’t see an actual blood connection.
One can see how this tall tale came about. Sitting around a campfire after a long day at work. A young bright eyed boy named Steve, reminiscent of a brother and a grandfather, stories to delight, inspire and even shock come easily. Sadly, this tall tale has been debunked.
Have a tall tale you would like confirmed or debunked? Maybe I can help.