Allan W. Eckert Walter Havighurst - Essay

Walter Havighurst

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Using the voluminous Draper manuscripts and other first-hand accounts of the winning of the West, Eckert has followed the frontiersmen from the first wondering exploration of the Ohio valley in the 1770's to the crushing of the final Indian resistance in the War of 1812. ["The Frontiersmen"] is a panoramic frontier history, crammed with incident….

Mr. Eckert makes one feel the lure of this frontier, though his writing can lapse into remarks like "The aura of fear in Springfield and the surrounding country bloomed again."

In this book, the frontier contest is recorded in a day-to-day account, sometimes a dozen lines to a day, occasionally a dozen pages. Moving within a few pages from Blackhoof to Nathaniel Massie, to Simon Girty, to General Harmar, to Tecumseh, to Kenton, the narrative is too often abruptly broken. Though it keeps events in order and shows the struggle from many angles, variety is gained at the expense of continuity and sustained narrative. The frontier drama is presented in scores of scattered scenes and episodes.

The historical action includes frequent passages of dialogue, and although Mr. Eckert has an eye for graphic (and bloody) incident, his ear is insensitive. During Kenton's last years, Judge John H. James of Urbana, Ohio, took down many pages of the illiterate old scout's memories "in his racy dialect." In the Eckert narrative, Kenton sometimes talks like a backwoodsman, but he can also say "I am going to communicate some things to you which I want you to promise me you will never divulge." Other frontiersmen in these pages use equally stilted language…. Of the pioneer tongue so richly voiced by Conrad Richter in his Ohio valley novels there is hardly a syllable in "The Frontiersmen."

Walter Havighurst, "Westward Roam," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1967 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 17, 1967, p. 24.