The Pioneers by David McCullough

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal WestThe Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’re a fan of history, you’ll probably enjoy this account of the first white Americans to cross the Appalachians and form settlements in the Ohio Valley. I’m not such a fan. McCullough writes well, and there were many anecdotes I enjoyed, such as the disastrous campaign by General St. Clair, the visits by Aaron Burr and John Quincy Adams. However, the bulk of the book is merely describing the day-to-day life of the settlers. Person A cuts down trees to plant corn, person B plants a fruit tree, a fire burns a cabin, someone drowns, and so on. I’ve read very similar stuff doing my own genealogy and found it boring then.

I feel McCullough displays too much pride and enthusiasm for these European-Americans forcing their way onto Indian lands and subduing and eventually expelling the natives, whom he often calls savages (or quotes those who do). He calls it a heroic story (see subtitle). Heroic or tragic depends on one’s biases. My own ancestors were among these very first “pioneers.” I am neither proud nor ashamed of them. I might have done the same things in their shoes. Some good people fought hard to keep slavery out of the newly opened territory, but many others kept slaves and threatened the abolitionists. All in all it’s worth a solid three stars.

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