The American Frontier

tfp.2014.05.03.the.frontiersman.f4c781b0c8a0c7845c9a8110.LWay back in 1986, nearly thirty years ago, I began reading a series of stories about the early American frontier. These stories captivated my imagination in such a significant way that I have yet been able to shake myself loose from their grip.

The first book I read, Follow the River by James Alexander Thom, is classified as a novel. In fact all of the books I am going to list in this brief blog post are technically classified as novels. Nevertheless, they are heavily researched novels, researched to such a depth that they are extremely close, or as close as humanly possible, to the real history of events.

 Follow the River tells the true story of Mary Draper Ingles’ capture, captivity and escape from the Shawnee Indians. Twenty-three, married and pregnant, Ingles’ family home was raided on July 30, 1755, and she and her sister-in-law were kidnapped and carried away from their homes in Virginia’s New River Valley not far from the present-day Virginia Tech campus. After several months of captivity in Central Ohio (my home state, which fact only added to my interest in the story), Ingles bravely escaped and trekked 800 miles through the wilderness, moving in a southeasterly direction and following upstream the rivers that her captors had led her down several months earlier. She found her home again and was reunited with her husband. This brave, determined woman not only survived but lived to the ripe old age of 83. A dramatic, inspiring, true and powerful story.

Now captivated by the storytelling magic of James Alexander Thom, I picked up another of his novels titled From Sea to Shining Sea. This marvelous story recounts the lives of several sons of Virginians John and Ann Rogers Clark. The two most well known are Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark and his younger brother, William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame. At the time I was reading this story, I was working in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, just one county north of the historic Clark family home in Caroline County, Virginia. Thus, once again, I found myself held captive by local geography.

I had never heard of George Rogers Clark. But wouldn’t you know it—and much to my great pleasure—Thom had also penned his story in another novel titled Long Knife. The term Long Knife is the label the Indians who hunted in Kentucky gave to the frontiersmen who crossed the Appalachian range and began to settle in their hunting grounds. When we read and study the Revolutionary War, we seem to focus on events along the eastern seaboard—Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, Savannah and of course, Yorktown. But while all of this commotion was going on in America’s colonies struggling for freedom, other battles were being waged in the west. Rogers, visionary leader that he was, almost single-handedly defeated the British Army west of the Appalachians. The story of his march on Vincennes is stunning in its stark nature of commitment and war. It is a story for the ages which few have heard. And I will soon be posting that story here. You will not wish to miss it.

There are other novels I read during that period of my life and they shall, for now, remain unnamed. All that is except for one, the one pictured above, The Frontiersmen, by Allan W. Eckert. I have left this novel for last because, without question, it is my favorite. It is perhaps my favorite novel of all times. The novel spans the life of its main character, Simon Kenton (1755-1836).

Born in present-day Fauquier County, on the western side of Bull Run Mountain, not far from The Plains, a small town in northeastern Fauquier, not far from my present-day home, Kenton became one of the primary leaders on the Kentucky and later Ohio frontiers. He fought the Shawnee, and served many times as a scout for both British and later American armies. A Shawnee captive, he escaped death more than once and became a legend to the Shawnee people to the point where they feared to kill him. He served under the aforementioned George Rogers Clark, he knew both Tecumseh, the legendary Shawnee Indian leader, and Daniel Boone. I remain captivated by Kenton’s story especially, and the others named above to a lesser degree.

I grew up in Ohio, first along the Ohio River where much of the story of the early American frontier took place. I have walked the same Kentucky shoreline as Mary Draper Ingles and later, James Alexander Thom, who followed her path in preparation for his novel. I have boated on the mighty Ohio as did Simon Kenton, though I confess I was not on the lookout for the Shawnee. As a youth I dug for and found Indian arrowheads in my own backyard and in the woods behind our house—arrowheads no doubt shot from the bows of the Shawnee, the Miami and the perhaps other tribes of the Southeastern Ohio region. Later I moved north, to Cleveland on Lake Erie, where brave sailors waged naval battles in the War of 1812. I moved to Virginia in 1971 and adopted this Commonwealth as my home. I have since traced my own, personal family history from Ohio, through Kentucky and North Carolina, and eventually to the early days of Virginia from whence my ancestors came, back to the early decades of the 1600’s, and even into Loudoun, Stafford and Albemarle Counties. I feel a deep connection to both Virginia and Ohio, and to the people who settled these lands. And that is why I find these stories so compelling, even after nearly thirty years.

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