Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

In Dale Van Every's Forth to the Wilderness we saw the first identifying characteristics of the American spirit as a desire for freedom and a wondrous land in which to express it. However there was a daunting challenge to that fervent desire, the frontier wars of 1750-1783. There were the French and Indian War, Pontiac's War, Lord Dunmore's War, and the frontier war that was a part of the War for Independence. All of these, plus innumerable small scale massacres and retributions were brutal, no quarter expressions of deep hatred. From this came another characteristic: self-reliance borne of suffering, and leading to a growing self-identification. As Van Every writes, "Again and again during these last ten bitter years they had been driven from their homes and as often they had returned to the ashes. What they had so far lacked was an identification of themselves as a people. And it was this, after years of brooding and mourning, that they were now beginning to gain. They were beginning to realize that they were a people set apart. Their hatred of their Indian enemies and their mistrust of their own governments were only the outward signs of this growing awareness that they were separate. They were beginning to realize that it was their suffering that distinguished them, that was drawing them together, that was singling them out, that was cutting them off from their unthreatened neighbors to the east who had been made alien by their inability to understand what the frontier had endured. Ten years of misery had taught frontier people that they were not to be saved by waiting upon the efforts of those neighbors, or upon the acts of their governments, or upon the occasional march of armies. They were beginning to realize that if they were to be saved they must save themselves. Bouquet had called them the Frontier People. That, at last, they were about to become."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

What Van Every is getting at in his discourse on the Indian life in the wilderness is twofold: that personal freedom and the wilderness land are essential factors in Americanism. The frontiersman had a burning desire to escape the suffocating trappings of government, and despised the intrusion of government, and even everyday people, into his everyday life. But the companion to that freedom was (and I believe, still is) a wondrous land in which to express it. America's woods, mountains, hills, plains, deserts, canyons, seashores and waterways contain a nearly limitless place to enjoy the blessings of the creator. The native Americans denied their sinfulness and gave vent to many sinful impulses. Contrary to liberal opinion they were not always great stewards of the land. They were violent and grossly immature and ultimately from their sinfulness and idolatry they were denied the land they so loved. Enfolded within the American spirit is a love for the land, and properly, for freedom and law according to proper proportion. At the highest point of all is love for the Creator who has given such a wonderful gift.
One more quotation from Forth to the Wilderness will sum up my first point about what it means to be an American: "Certain as we are that our world now offers infinitely more rewarding satisfactions and fulfillments, that our civilization represents an immense step forward toward the state to which man was intended to aspire, we must sometimes be haunted by a stray, half-suppressed doubt. The most conventional modern man, leaning back from his desk to reflect upon a recent vacation, may for a moment be startled by the sudden piquancy of such a doubt. He may remember in that unguarded moment before he puts the thought from him that never does he know so deep a sense of well being, never does he feel so completely at peace with himself, as when he is on a trout stream, in a duck blind, on a mountain top, in the woods, by campfire. For a little while he has escaped the clutch of clock and job. He has caught a momentary glimpse of what the Indian meant by freedom."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

From Dale Van Every, Forth to the Wilderness, pp.41-42: "His principal occupation, hunting and fishing to get food, was more of a sport than a task. His other more common undertakings were likewise diverting. He enjoyed the revelation of his eloquence in council, his endurance as a dancer, his calm while gambling, his prowess as a ball player, his taste in the decoration of his person, his singularity in having remarkable dreams. His greatest sport of all was going to war, in the days when the wars were with others of his own kind which could be started and stopped at will. All in all he found it a wonderfully good way of life..."
Dale Van Every continues his description of the Native Americans (p.41). "In his view he was a natural man living in a natural environment that suited him. His world as he had known it was a vast and marvelous land of lakes and rivers, forests and prairies, alive with game. All this, in his deeply religious estimation, represented a higher power's gift to him for his sustenance and enjoyment. Through it he might roam as he pleased. The arch of the sky above him, the gathering of a storm, the splash of a salmon at dawn, the mating whistle of and elk, the lift of his canoe in a rapid, the glow of sunset over a lake, the start of a buck from a thicket, the hiss of raindrops in the dust, the scent of pines in the sun, all were miraculous parts of his world, as he was a part."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

One of my favorite works of American history is Dale Van Every's four volume series on the American frontier. The first book, Forth to the Wilderness, has several defining quotes about the American spirit. Over the next few days I will post extended quotations.
The first is about life on the frontier, as defined by the Native Americans. This sets the stage for the ascendancy of the frontiersmen (pp. 38-39): "His way of life was dedicated to the simple and all-inclusive principle that complete personal freedom is the first requisite to becoming a whole man. From dawn to dusk, from childhood to old age, he adhered to this cult of freedom. Whether he built a canoe, carved a pipe, hunted a buffalo, sought a woman, joined a war party, or stretched to doze away the day in the sun, whatever he did was at a moment of his own choosing. His lot was not always an easy one. He often starved, froze, fell ill, or suffered from every sort of misadventure, but never did he suffer what was in his estimation the genuine ignominy of being required to do what another man told him to do."
The second is especially telling of his philosophy (p.39): "As he grew older his destiny grew increasingly apparent. If he was to become a man in the Indian sense of the term he must become more and more of an individualist. He must reject all discipline imposed by others while at suitable intervals he must most rigorously discipline himself in order to develop his skill, hardihood, and courage as hunter and warrior... ...Being a man he needed to subscribe to no rule but his own impulses and the more heedless these were the more proven was hi manhood." The Indian had a complete denial of his sinful nature... 1 John 1:8, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."