All of us walk down the highway of life one step at a time. My journey has been an interesting one, but not painless. And on that road I have encountered defining moments where the route has taken abrupt and significant turns that changed my life forever.
Growing up in the fifties I was enamored with Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett and later on NBC’s weekly series Daniel Boone. I grew up in a time when our heroes were squeaky clean and the American ideal was hardly questioned. But by the time I had graduated from high school I had become deeply disillusioned with our government and became not only critical, but revolutionary towards it. I was part of the anti-war movement, the anti-America movement – identified simply as “the counter culture.” Is it any wonder that at the same time my own life was spiraling down into one of anger, despair, emptiness, chemical and drug abuse?
In the summer of 69 I was booted out of my home because I refused to cut my hair and I lived from hand to mouth in my hometown of Davenport, Iowa, sometimes stealing to make ends meet. Thankfully, I had a girlfriend (named Karen) who was able to help me some with some of the simple necessities, but life was tough. I remember sleeping one night on a cold garage floor and shivering for hours. In August of that same year I experienced a spiritual rebirth that has formed the foundation and motivation for my existence here on this earth. Things went better for me after that. I cleaned up my act, got married, had children and then 10 years later another significant event happened to me that has directed and defined my life’s focus for the last 27 years.
While visiting my parent’s at their remote lake cabin near Lutsen, Minnesota, I had opportunity to shoot the same type of gun that men like Boone and Crockett carried. It loaded from the front, using loose, black, gun powder from a powder horn and shot a funny looking round ball. When I pulled the trigger the gun roared and a mighty plume of white smoke came exploding out of the barrel. From the first squeeze of the trigger and in that very brief instant of time the light went on. That firearm became a conduit, a portal of discovery and somehow I made a connection to our nation’s past that I never had done by reading a book or sitting in a classroom. I was in the present moment, yet I was also somewhere in time years ago, deep in our nation’s past and I was seeing the world through the eyes of an early frontiersman.
That is an example of what I call “time connectedness”, something that transcends mere thought or perception and draws us into the visceral feeling of history and ultimately brings us to a closer comprehension of the truth, of “how it really was.”
In my case, it took a simple artifact to open the door of my understanding and to begin my journey. In a matter of weeks I had purchased that gun, started shooting it and learning about the guns of our nation’s past. My experiences in the field led me to do research and my
Research led me back into the field. Eventually I was introduced to the term that described what I was doing. That term is “experimental archeology.” Some people like to label it “living history.” Whatever the term used, it involves testing existing historical theories that archeologists and historians have made based on data they have taken from historical records and examination of artifacts. Then, the experimental archeologist will take those artifacts or copies of them and experiment in the field with them to further “flesh out” the existing theories. But whatever label you attach to the process, the end result is the same – a deeper sense of historical connection and perception.
For instance, I had heard that these old muzzleloading guns were slow to load and unreliable. Experience has shown this to be wrong. With flintlock firearms I have successfully hunted bear, deer, wild boar, grouse, rabbits, squirrels and the world’s unluckiest woodcock. Another myth that has been debunked (along with the help of others in this field) is that frontiersmen did not dress from head to toe in buckskin. Yes, they did wear some leather. But, I found that leather is not very comfortable when it gets wet, takes a long time to dry and is hot in the summer. From research in primary sources (diaries, etc.) and field work, we have found that frontiersmen dressed much like Native Americans – yet history books and the media rarely show this.
The process of “Experimental archeology” has also led to forays out in the woods in an 18th century manner. Included in this has been hunting with flintlock firearms, traveling by horse, foot or by birch bark canoe. Other features include starting fires without a match, freezing, starving, burning up, becoming insect fodder, being injured and getting lost. But no matter where the journey led and no matter if the experience was momentarily good or bad, the end result has been the same – a closer knowledge of what our early frontier was really like.
Another great way to view the past is through the eyes of someone who actually lived in that time period. So, it was a natural thing for me to become interested in Daniel Boone. Why not? He certainly is one of the morning stars of America’s early, westward expansion.
As I began to focus on Daniel Boone’s life and times, I found that most everything I had ever learned about him from the media was false and deeply misleading. As an American frontier icon, he deserves the status awarded to him as the heroic, honest and resourceful woodsman. But like all of us, he was person of many dimensions, shades and hues. It is some of these other sides of Daniel Boone that I like to bring out, the dimensions that really shaped and solidified his character and made him a truly great man. This is the very human side of failure, pain, depression and regret. I have learned many valuable life-lessons from Boone’s 18th century experiences that are so applicable to our lives today, whether in the work place or at home. Both in the field and in research, Daniel Boone’s life has encouraged, energized and motivated me. Part of what I do is simply share what I have learned.
This whole historical journey has changed and enriched my life in many ways and I have had fun along the way. That’s what I want to do for others – introduce them to a history that is alive with lessons for living today and that is what Portals In Time is all about.
I have a few historical affiliations that I would like to mention. I am honored to be a member of The American Longrifle Association, The Contemporary Longrifle Association and The Upper Mississippi Alliance of Adventurers (local group of reenactors). My gratitude to all these groups and their kind members, they have been invaluable in my understanding the American Frontier of the 18th century.
In addition, I am a full time staff writer for Muzzleloader magazine. Muzzleloader’s main focus is our early, American frontier history. Over the years I have also written many articles for other publications–including American Rifleman–all of them history related.
None of this would have been possible if it had not been for my wife of 35 years, Cindy. Her help, support, encouragement and ideas have been the real, sustaining force behind the scenes and her smile is the sunlight in our home that has brightened not only my life, but many others as well.
Finally, and most importantly, I would like the thank the Lord Jesus Christ who came into my life at 17 years of age and changed a very lonely and lost young man and gave him hope and purpose. To Him I owe everything!