I just finished the first four (in chronological order, at least) of Louis L’Amour’s Sackett novels: Sackett’s Land, To the Far Blue Mountains, The Warrior’s Path, and Jubal Sackett. These novels are frontier stories, but they are not exactly Westerns. They tell the story of the Sackett family, starting with Barnabas Sackett’s escape from England in 1600 to found a non-sanctioned settlement in the New World, and ending with the exploits of his sons.
I wish I had discovered Louis L’Amour as a teenager. The books are not great literature, but they are fun, and I used to devour historical fiction. History is way too much fun to be left to history teachers. Besides, if you get your history in the form of stories, not textbooks, you can learn some interesting stuff they didn’t teach you when you were sleeping through history in high school. Like this:
1. If you take United States History in high school, you will learn about the “official” settlements, like Jamestown and the Plymouth Plantation. There were also plenty of unofficial settlements and individual explorers also. These settlements left odd signs in various places, such as Roman coins in the middle of nowhere.
2. It is a serious oversimplification to speak of “Indians.” (Or Native Americans now.) There were multiple nations, with alliances and enmities. If a settler was allied with one tribe, then he became the enemy of other tribes. Just like if you were allied with England in the 1600’s, you were probably opposed to Spain.
3. A good woman will go with you anywhere. A great woman will go with you anywhere, skin your buffalo, and reload your musket for you, while confounding your enemies in subtle ways.
4. The reason we don’t really learn foreign languages in high school is that we don’t have to. If you are put in a wilderness with Indians of various tribes, not to mention Spaniards and Frenchmen, you will learn enough of these languages to get by, even if your grammar and vocabulary are not complete.
5. Indian oral history and natural history are at odds. A few tribes believed that Woolly Mammoths, though rare, were around at the time of this story.
6. When dueling, it is often a good idea to let your enemy think that you are an idiot, and that he is greatest dueler in the world.
7. The story isn’t over until the good guy gets the girl, and the bad guy is dead. This may seem like a trite way to end a story, but when you think about it, that is kind of the way history ends.