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From the Library

October 1, 2019

Narratives of America by Allen Eckert

This is, of course, a series of books by the late author, focused on the opening of the early American West. Specifically, these books cover the advancement of Europeans into the areas of the Ohio River Valley, and what would become the Ohio Territory, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Billed by the author as “Narrative Nonfiction,” the cast of characters is filled solely with documented actual historical figures. The problem with that arises because the author filled the stories with conversations based on journal records, and put thoughts into the characers’ heads based on the same journal entries.

As a historian, I understand why this drove historians absolutely fucking bonkers, and why today, both professional historians and living historian reenactors alike begin frothing at the mouth at the mention of the author’s name. As a man who understands the importance of mythology to a culture, I could give two fucks if he “stretched the truth” a little bit, in the manner he did. How close are his recreated conversations to the actual conversations mentioned in original source journals and diaries? We can never know. Does that matter? If you’re trying to write a historical study, yes, absolutely. In that case, it needs to be very Joe Friday: “The facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”

If you’re trying to tell a true story to help people learn and appreciate their historical culture? It doesn’t hurt a damned thing.

I first read this series in grade school (Yes, I was—am—a nerd). I had heard of Daniel Boone, of course, but these books opened my eyes to the even more interesting people surrounding Boone’s life. People like Simon Kenton and Simon Girty, and Lewis Wetzel. I would read the stories, late at night, after I was supposed to be asleep in bed. Then, on the weekends, I’d grab my wooden “rifle,” or—more often, a simple fiberglass recurve bow and a handful of arrows, and a satchel with some snacks in it, and I’d leave at first light, once chores were done, and disappear for the day, not returning til well after nightfall (and supper), to get yelled at for worrying my mother. Then, I’d get up the next morning and repeat the process. By the time I started junior high, on longer breaks from school, including Christmas break, spring break, and summer vacation, I’d go to the woods for days at a time, staying alone, overnight, imaging myself as a ranger, searching out sign of impending attack by Seneca and Iroquois and Shawnee.

I’ve re-read the series several times as an adult. Even knowing some of the liberties Mr. Eckert took, I still love this series of books. It still drives me to take off for the woods for weeks at a time, living out of a pack, or off the land. The problem of course, is that the repercussions for getting caught, living off the land, nowadays, is a lot more detrimental than getting captured by the Shawnee. Simon Kenton had to run the gauntlet at Chillicothe, and get adopted by the tribe. If I got caught living off the land, running through the woods, shooting deer for meat when I needed it, I’d end up in prison. I’ll take running the gauntlet, any day.

For general preparedness, if you’re not the sort to think running off to the forest, and stalking hostile Indians and redcoats in small units, or even by yourself, sounds appealing, there’s a far more useful aspect of these stories. That is, what happened when the Indians, French, and later, the English attacked. Those who had established independent farms, separated from their neighbors, almost invariably fled to the nearest “station,” or fort, at the first word of Indian trouble. Those who didn’t, ended up dead or captive. Most people—especially in the early days—simply lived in the stations, and ventured out only to work in their nearby fields. Even then, a lot of times, the stations would be overrun by attacking hostiles and their European allies.

That’s really the biggest benefit for prepper types, in reading these books. If you’re theorizing about the risk of “bands” or “tribes” of Cannibalistic San Fransiscans roaming the countryside, looting, raping, and pillaging, you need to look at what worked for survival options in the past when similar occurrences were going on. Well, here’s your opportunity. I’ll let you in on a secret: it wasn’t being a “rugged individualist” that got you through. It was being part of a community—even if that community was spread out a bit.

One of the arguments I’ve heard against this view of course, is the presence of modern, magazine-fed, semi-auto weapons in the hands of defenders, versus the flintlocks that the settlers and frontiersmen had. Well, there’s two ways to approach that. First of all: they had commensurate arms with their opposition, just like you do. You may have AR15s and AK47s, but so do your “Indians.” Second: in a lot of cases, at the stations, they even had small cannons and mortars, and it still didn’t stop them from getting overrun.

Highly Recommended.

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3 Comments
  1. Joe Madden permalink

    Stumbled into this series at my local library, after a trip with the family to Lake George.
    Loved it! It does give me the itch to spend time outdoors.

  2. Nyle permalink

    I always, ALWAYS appreciate your insight !
    Thanks for caring enough to share.
    Nyle F.
    I F, Id.

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