Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Christian Hero

Ere I own a usurper
I’ll crouch with the fox
So tremble false whigs,
In the midst o’ your glee,
Ye have not seen the last
O’ my bonnets and me.

- Scott

The Life of Daniel Boone by Lyman C. Draper

To certain child-like men like myself (or juvenile men, if you are of a more cynical nature), who grew up with a taste for adventure tales both fiction and non-, Daniel Boone has a semi-deified status. He is the real life embodiment of Cooper’s Hawkeye (in fact, Cooper’s hero was inspired by Boone). He is chivalrous, in a rough hewn fashion, always brave and fearless in the face of danger, always calm when lesser men panic, and always in command of every situation the untamed wilderness threw at him.

The great merit of Draper’s book (written in the 1860s) is that he confirms with careful research the myth we all want to believe. Daniel Boone is everything the legends say, which makes this book a much-needed antidote to the cynical hero-debunking that takes place in virtually every ‘historical’ book that comes out today. Even Belue, who in his annoying editorial comments attempts to teach us not to condemn Indians for massacring whites, can’t really find any major errors in Draper’s biography.

Draper’s biography was never completed; it takes us up to the battle to defend Boonesborough, but there is much additional information supplied in appendices by Draper and Belue. In the opening pages of the book we also get a complete summary of the major events in Daniel Boone’s life.

Boone was born into the Quaker faith, but his Christianity was an unchurched, elemental Christianity more in tune with Alfred the Great than William Penn. Boone’s manly Christian virtues came from a deeper source than sectarian Quakerism.

Belue tells us in his introduction that Draper was no historian. He was an encyclopedist – a great collector of information. For that reason the book doesn’t read as smoothly as a modern reader might wish. One has to take one’s time, as when reading a Victorian novel. But a reader’s patience is rewarded by the many fine and splendid scenes of Daniel Boone’s life that come across to us very vividly in these pages that are only some 40 to 50 years removed from the incidents depicted.

Particularly riveting is Draper’s account of Daniel Boone’s rescue of his daughter and two other girls who had been kidnapped by Indians:
Boone and Floyd, who had now got within shooting distance, hurriedly discharged their rifles as the Indians were moving off, each mortally wounding his man. One other gun was fired a long shot probably by John McMillen, but without effect. The Indians were kindling their fire; one had been posted on the elevated grounds a little distance behind to act as a sentinel, and as the smoke ascended from the camp-fire, he left his gun and ran down to the fire to light his pipe and procure the necessary articles for mending his moccasins and was busily engaged in overhauling his budget. At the moment the whites fired upon the camp, one of the Indians was picking up wood, another preparing the meat for cooking, a third was in a reclining posture near the captives, apparently as a guard over them, while the old Cherokee chief Hanging Maw had just gone to the branch with a kettle for some water. It was the sentinel examining his budget near the fire whom Floyd wounded; he tumbled into the fire but, instantly recovering, ran off. Another, as he ran, sent his tomahawk flying at the head of Betsey Callaway, which barely missed its aim, and then, with the others, dashed into the cane and disappeared.

The girls had ventured as far back on their trail as they dared, which was but a short distance from the fire, still faintly hoping that deliverance might come, but they had become quite dispirited that day. They were sitting down on a log, Fanny Callaway on one side of her sister and Jemima Boone on the other, and both reclining their heads in her lap for rest. At the crack of the guns, the men rushed toward the camp with a loud yell, which gave the Indians no time either to kill their captives or save scarce an article of their baggage – “we sent them off,” says Floyd dryly, “almost naked.” The girls jumped instantly to their feet, Jemima Boone wildly exclaiming, “That’s daddy!”…
Jemima Boone’s cry of “That’s daddy!” brought tears to my eyes. So few captives are ever recovered from the Indians. Can you picture the anxiety of their fathers? Can you picture the fear and anxiety of the girls who were captured? “That’s daddy!” – what a wonderful moment!

And yes, Daniel Boone did indeed successfully run the gauntlet.
Running the gauntlet oftentimes resulted fatally, and particularly if the poor prisoner happened to evince a timid disposition or endeavored piteously to beg to be excused, as was frequently the case. The two lines were formed five or six feet apart on either side of the path; and once at the end, the runner was safe. The Indians were variously armed with tomahawks, clubs, sticks, and switches, and Boone stripped to his breech-cloth, leggings, and moccasins. The race commenced, when the Indians made very violent gestures as if they would knock his brains out but, after all, really appeared to show him favor, for he received only a few slight strokes from the switches. But his own shrewd management had something to do with the result, for he purposely ran in a very zig-zag manner, first making a dash so close to one side of the line as to cause the Indians suddenly to give way, and then as unexpectedly to dart in the same way to the opposite side, giving but few of them an opportunity to inflict a blow. Seeing Boone in a fair way to pass the ordeal comparatively unscathed, one fellow nearly at the farther end of the line threw himself partly within the race-path, with a view the better to give the prisoner a home thrust, but Boone appeared not to observe this maneuver and, just before reaching him, bending his head forward and increasing his speed, struck the Indian full in the breast, prostrating him instantly and running over him unharmed. This incident gave the coup de grace to the exciting ceremony and caused a perfect shout of laughter along the lines at the poor Indian’s expense, when all came up to shake hands with Boone and congratulate him on his success, complimenting him as a “vel-ly good so-jer” – and at the same time pointing to their discomfited fellow and denouncing him as a “squaw,” with a degrading prefix intended to give increased force to the epithet.
Charity never faileth, and sometimes it’s dangerous:
Near Boone’s, in the Sugar Creek Settlement, lived a noted old hunter named Tate, who spent much of his time in the woods. Boone once, returning from a hunting tour, went to his father-in-law’s, Joseph Bryan’s, to thrash out rye for his own use, and learning the wants of Tate’s family in consequence of his protracted absence, obtained permission of Mr. Bryan also to thrash out some grain for them. Such acts of charity were so common among the pioneers as scarcely to excite notice; and though they were not blazoned abroad by the adulatious newspaper puffs, they were nevertheless observed by that Good Being who assures us that while he loves a cheerful and ungrudging giver, we should never let our right hand know what our left hand doeth. On his way home with his own grain, Boone left at Tate’s what he had designed for that needy family. Returning from the wilderness, Take expressed displeasure at Boone’s generosity; and this coming to Boone’s ears and soon after meeting Tate, he gave him a severe flogging and said he would do it again should he ever throw out any more jealous intentions; that he would be grateful to any person, who under similar circumstances, would befriend his family as he had attempted to befriend Tate’s; but he could not brook the idea of real kindness being misconstrued in a manner so provokingly unkind. In his old age, Boone would sometimes allude to this instance of man’s ingratitude.
A book such as Draper’s reveals to us that the modern churchmen are lying on two essential points of European history:

1) The Europeans did not, if we look at the historical record as a whole, mistreat the indigenous
races. Quite the contrary, they acted with great forbearance and kindness toward the Indian whenever it was humanly possible. When they fought and killed Indians, it was only in order to protect their loved ones from the brutalities of a savage race of people.

2) Christianity and pacifism are not compatible. When one loves, one fights to protect the beloved. “That’s daddy!”

So long as there is one European left who still believes that Christianity is a fighting faith because the Christian god is a god of love, liberaldom will have an implacable enemy.

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