Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Little Jewel

I'm a sucker for bargain books. When I found The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds as a bargain book, I picked it up for the kids, knowing nothing about it but that it was a Newberry winner. I'm so glad I did. I'm also glad that one of the kids "forgot" to put it back on the bookshelf so that it was lying on the kitchen table last Saturday while I was eating my lunch. I idly opened to the first page and was quickly enthralled.

This is a retelling of a true story from the pioneer days of New York State, when there was no "United States." The French and Indians are sweeping down into the frontier settlements, burning homes and killing settlers in the outlying areas. The book begins when Teunis Van Alstyne is leaving home for militia duty because of rumors of more raids. He leaves his wife, Gertrude, and their two young children home alone with reassurances that the militia will stop the Indians before they could threaten the Van Alstyne home.

He's wrong. Fortunately, one of the militia men is able to warn Gertrude that Indians are near, and the rest of the book relates the story of the plan Gertrude makes to protect her family using the only weapon they had available -- an antique Spanish gun that none of them are strong enough to hold.

I was impressed as I read it by the ingenuity and courage that Gertrude showed, and by the discipline and courage 10-year-old Edward showed. If either of them had failed, the entire family would no doubt have been murdered. But they don't fail, and the story lived on, handed down generation to generation until Walter Edmonds came across it and wrote it in a book.

I like this kind of story. It gives me new appreciation for what the pioneers did. Sure, we look back on it now and judge it as ethically wrong to push the Native Americans off their land. But you've got to admire the individuals who stuck with it through hardship for the dream of a better life for their families.

Something else I think is funny in this story -- Gertrude refused to go to her mother-in-law's brick house. She says it's because she thinks they'll be just as safe at their own home, but I can read between the lines -- there's no love lost between those two women. Gertrude would rather face the Indians alone than knuckle under to her mother-in-law!

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