Are heroes stereotyped? Does the word trailblazer evoke the image of a rugged frontiersman, single handedly clearing a pathway through virgin wilderness, going where no man has gone before him? Perhaps it is someone who opens up new frontiers, by following a river someone thought to be the way to the western sea? Or maybe a modern trailblazer – walking on the moon, while everyone watches in disbelief.
Many of us would consider Trailblazer and Daniel Boone to be synonymous. This American frontiersman, rugged Indian fighter, and popular figure in history definitely fits the billing. His exploits were told and retold, sometimes exaggerated, but always interesting. So interesting that at least one early biography of Boone was translated into German by the late 1700s. His widespread fame led the Spanish Government to issue an invitation to Boone, to come and bring his friends and family and populate the Missouri River Valley, and a grant of 1,000 arpens of land were to be his in return. He arrived in what would become Missouri, in September of 1799, nearly five years before Lewis and Clark even stopped by.
As children, we have always enjoyed the stories of our heros made larger than life. We envision ourselves living their exploits and adventures. Perhaps that same story of Boone, was read by a young boy named Gottfried Duden, growing up in his affluent home in Germany. Precocious and intelligent, the third son in a wealthy family was free to chose a path other than the family pharmacy business. Completing his law studies at an early age, he was young and impressionable when serving as a Judge in the smaller rural communities, those especially hard hit by the troubles of the times. When listening to their stories of famine and oppression, he must have imagined himself the hero that could lead the way for a better life. Perhaps his mind returned to the stories of the American frontier, and the vast new territory of the western States of North America.
Duden resolved to prove that the young territory was a perfect Garden of Eden, and knew in order to be convincing he would have to speak from experience. But with no experience in the life of a farmer he needed a companion, a professional farmer to manage his land. Also, he brought a housekeeper to take care of his daily needs. Used to a certain wealthy lifestyle, shipboard travel was in First Class Cabins as well. Carriages would be used for their travel, while trunks packed with books and medical supplies were shipped overland. Not exactly ones vision of a trailblazer is it?
Then Duden spent his days, writing, while gazing from the nearby hillside. When the local Road Overseer met Duden, he assured him that for a small sum, his rigorous duties would be assigned to someone else. Such work is clearly beneath Duden. He wandered the area, happy to have Nathan Boone, son of the great trailblazer as his companion, sharing stories of local massacres and other adventures. So fascinated was Duden, that the story of one local event, the Ramsey massacre, is the only sentence in English, with the quote “the indians did scalp me” included in his book.
Not all trailblazers are created equal though. While some lead Corps of Discovery, and others literally mark trees in order to guide their followers, some unlikely heroes just sit on a hillside and write. While professing to write for those lowly minions who appeared in his courtroom, Gottfried Duden’s first followers ironically were just like himself, more proficient in Latin than in farming. No wonder his writing was criticized. As soon as his missive reached the masses, with more editions and reprints published by emigration societies, the story spread and the trail began to blaze brightly! At his suggestion, emigration societies are formed, bringing thousands quickly. They in turn imitate, and with their own letters home, tell stories of how much land and meat is available, read after Sunday sermon in the churchyard. Soon the Missouri River valley was overflowing with German emigrants. Proof, that just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, don’t stereotype your heros.
2 responses to “An Unlikely Hero”
Fascinating! Once again, truth is stranger than fiction.