David Barton Did Quote a Western Novel as FactPosted by Jim Newman on March 8th, 2013 – 1 Comment – Posted in Uncategorized
So, David Barton, in an article on his WallBuilders website, has finally responded to the question of where he got the story he told on Glenn Beck’s web-based TV show about a classroom full of gun-toting elementary school students saving their teacher from a gunman in the 1850s. As suspected, the story did come from Louis L’Amour’s novel Bendigo Shafter. But Barton, who incessantly claims to use only primary sources, and constantly accuses anyone who criticizes him of not using primary sources (even when they do), defends his use of the story because L’Amour, in a recorded introduction to the audio version of one of his other stories, said it really happened:
“There’s a case I use in one of my stories; I use it in the story called Bendigo Shafter. All the kids coming to school used to hang their guns up in the cloakroom because they were miles from home sometimes, and it was dangerous to ride out without a gun. And this is taken from an actually true incident. I use it in my story and tell the story, but it really happened. Now a man came to kill the teacher. It was a man. And he came with a gun, and all the kids liked the teacher, so they came out and ranged around him with their guns. That stopped it. But kids twelve and thirteen used to carry guns to school regularly.
Chris Rodda goes on to detail how borrowing from fiction and recollections is not good research.
Now, L’Amour did do research for his novels, and probably had some sort of source for the incident that he based his story on, but we still don’t know what that source was. L’Amour, in the same audio introduction said he used diaries, books, and newspapers. One book that he singled out as an example of a good source was a book written by a woman who had grown up in Deadwood, South Dakota, but if you look at that book (as I did, of course), you see that much of it was the woman’s recollections many decades later of things that happened when she was a very young child, making its details about as reliable as those in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Reliable enough for a fiction writer? Yes. Reliable enough for an historian? Not so much.
We still know nothing of the source.
Without the where and when details of the incident that L’Amour based his gun-toting students story on, and not even knowing whether he got the story from a newspaper, someone’s book or diary, or just from someone telling it to him, it can’t be verified. We don’t know if it was exaggerated by whoever L’Amour heard it from, or if he further exaggerated it to make his novel more exciting.
You can read the rest of her blog here.
As a kid I wanted a horse more than anything. I adored all that was Western and read every Western, frontier, or horse book series I could get: Zane Grey, Will James, LI Wilder, Ralph Moody, Holling C Holling, Mauguerite Henry, Walter Farley, Owen Wister, Mark Twain, J Frank Dobie, Bret Harte, Jack London, John Steinbeck, and others I can no longer remember. Max Brand and Louis L’amour came later.
I was reroofing my inlaw’s house on the south shore of Lake Superior while my spouse-to-be was working in the city. Built by Fins there was a Finnish sauna. A large building, 20 ft square, divided in half, with the first part a gaming, dressing, conversational area. The second half was the sauna with several benches, like bleachers, facing a stove with rocks on top to pour water for steam. The work was hard and early in the afternoon I would start a fire to build heat. At the end of the day, sore from roofing I would look through the shelves of Louis L’Amour and Max Brand paperbacks. Short and easy I could read one a night if I stayed up late or one every two days.
L’Amour is best considered a pulp writer. The plots were simple, the morals easy, the shooting quick and deadly. Often a loner unable to be with the woman he loved until the end. The backs of the books and sometimes inside would show L’Amour, a modern westerner with his big hat, and he talked about his inspiration. There were 30-40 of his books there, not even half of his 90 or so works. Most were Bantam editions that tended to melt in the steam. He had sold hundreds of millions of books (320 million by 2010). He had done some western history as well. They were iconic of the dream but not of the history, not even of the literature. John Tuska wrote.
I have no argument that L’Amour’s total sales have probably surpassed every other author of Western fiction in the history of the genre. Indeed, at the time of his death his sales had topped 200,000,000. What I would question is the degree and extent of his effect “upon the American Imagination”. His Western fiction is strictly formulary and frequently, although not always, features the ranch romance plot where the hero and the heroine are to marry at the end once the villains have been defeated. Not only is there nothing really new in the basic structure of his stories, even L’Amour’s social Darwinism, which came to characterize his later fiction, was scarcely original and was never dramatized in other media the way is was in works based on Zane Grey‘s fiction.
I have to agree Zane Grey’s books were longer, denser, and more complicated as well. Will James’s books were the most authentic and his 1927 Newberry Metal novel “Smokey, the Cow Horse” deserved the NYTBR praise. ”There have been many horse stories. But not one of them can compare with this book.” … “One of the finest horse stories ever told …” Nevertheless with absence of TV (no reception) or better reading material they served in those evening sweats to take away my care from not being with my girlfriend, soon to be my spouse. Truly, I would have rather driven 7 hrs a day to be with her but could not.
The books were just a little too much like a white guy wannabe cowboy that romanticized frontier times into a sterile heap of black and white morality and personal value. L’Amour wasn’t of the 1800′s lamenting the end of the West or describing the unparalleled vistas, he was lingering over a West that had never been, could never be, and probably we should be glad it hadn’t been.
His book “Bendago Shafter” won the National Book Award in 1979 and it’s likely that many men read this book. I don’t recall if I did as I read so many of his books in those few weeks they blend into a haze of smarmy westernism. “In 1982 he won the Congressional (National) Gold Medal, and in 1984 President Ronald Reagan awarded L’Amour the Presidential Medal of Freedom. L’Amour is also a recipient of North Dakota’s Roughrider Award.”
It is understandable but pathetic that David Barton would wish that history were as L’Amour wrote it. He well embodies the feelings of the Reagan era mystique where good men win, ladies are saved, and justice is served. A dream of the past no matter how pleasant cannot be history. Better to understand the full story that we may learn from it than wallow in self serving glory at the expense of the future.
Jim Newman, bright and well