jeremiah johnson and the language and music of the wolves

Es­ti­mated reading time is 3 min­utes.

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.

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!


Redford Wolves Tonsil2

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 “col­lectible” 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.”


Redford Wolves Columbia

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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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?