jeremiah johnson and the language and music of the wolves

IN 1972, JEREMIAH JOHNSON was an immediate hit! The movie was directed by Sydney Pollack, it starred the young Robert Redford as a somewhat misanthropic mountain man fleeing the Civil War—he had been a Confederate soldier, although that’s never mentioned—and the horrors of civilization. The script was written by John Milius and Edward Anhalt and was shot at various locations in Redford’s adopted home state of Utah.

In one scene, his horse and mule are attacked by a pack of wolves. When he intervenes to drive them off, the wolves turn on him and he is forced to kill in self defense.

More than a few people made Mr. Redford aware of the fact that in the entire recorded history of Western man, there had never been a verified report of wolves attacking a human adult.

Like the knights in Monty Python And The Holy Grail, wolves run away.


Jeremiah Johnson, recording artist 

Redford investigated these statements, found them to be true, and took the rather amazing step of recording an entire record album titled THE LANGUAGE AND MUSIC OF THE WOLVES (Tonsil Records ‎003, distributed by Natural History Magazine). On it, he discusses the array of disinformation about wolves based on misunderstanding and plain old fear of wolves. The entire album can be heard on YouTube:


Redford’s album was a ubiquitous presence on weekends whenever someone tried to unload their unneeded belongings on their front lawn or in their garage. Another even more wondrous album often seen in the same places was SONGS OF THE HUMPBACK WHALE. This is a must-hear/must-own two-record set.

Back in the early ’70s, everyone who came to 260 South Main while they were tripping HAD to listen to the wee beasties sing their astounding songs—which can be heard for thousands of miles underwater—at least once!


The album was first released on Tonsil Records in early 1971, and the Columbia edition followed later in the year. While the Tonsil record is the first pressing, it is the more common of the two. The album is not considered “collectable” and is readily available on the Internet (and yard-sales) (and thrift shops).

Killing wolves in the 21st century 

I was motivated to write this piece a few hours ago when I received the following via email:

“Since they were stripped of federal protection in Idaho, 890 wolves have been killed in the state. But Idaho is taking its slaughter one gruesome step further: The state has sent a hired bounty hunter into our public lands to gun down wolves.

Wolves were nearly eradicated in the lower 48 states by government-hired killers. In a cruel twist, after nearly 40 years of work to restore these beautiful animals to the American landscape, Idaho now chooses to send a gunman to mow down two entire wolf packs.

Wolves evolved over millions of years to create a healthy balance with prey animals like elk and deer. But the hired gun is there to leave more elk for hunters—even though Idaho wildlife officials say elk numbers are at an all-time high.”


The Tonsil album was reissued by Columbia with a much more attractive cover! Although harder to find than the original album, this is not considered “collectable” and is readily available on the Internet (and yard-sales) (and thrift shops).

Correction and postscript

1. My assumption that the album recorded and released in 1971 was inspired by the movie that was filmed in 1972 appears to be incorrect. Immediately refer to the comment by Bryan below.

My assumption was based on a memory older than Donald Trump’s first bankruptcy and, if you don’t know it by now, never ever trust old memories. Always look it up before putting it in print!

2. Jeremiah Johnson is a particular fave of mine; I watch it at least once a year. In 2005, a film titled An Unfinished Life starring Redford and the ever-watchable Morgan Freeman was released and slipped past just about everyone’s notice, losing millions of dollars along the way. The movie is a spiritual follow-up to Jeremiah Johnson—if you like the first movie, see the second!

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2 Replies to “jeremiah johnson and the language and music of the wolves”

  1. I am curious where you got the information that Robert Redford chose to record “The Language and Music of the Wolves” as a result of being questioned about the wolf fight scene in the movie “Jeremiah Johnson”. I had the vinyl album of “The Language and Music of the Wolves” as a child. It was released in 1971. However Redford and Pollack’s film was not released until 1972?

    1. BRYAN

      Good question! I have had the idea that making the movie (1972) led to making the album (1971) embedded in my Irish brain for so long that I didn’t think to question the statement when I made it!

      But I just did some checking online and can’t find a single source that even hints that the one led to the other. Given the chronology, I’m not likely to, either.

      So I will keep the statement in the article with a note to see your comment; maybe there is a reader out there that will know the story behind Redford’s involvement with the album.

      Thanks so much for the correction!!!


      PS: Hoping you have seen AN UNFINISHED LIFE (2005), a spiritual/philosophical kissin’ cousin to JEREMIAH JOHNSON.

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