April 22, 2008

Tales of the West

I'm a big fan of Westerns, partly because I get to play "spot the surrogate ancestor". I'm not talking about outlaws, gunslingers and assorted maverick heroes. Nope, in my family, it's homesteaders and townsfolk; law-abiding citizens of the sort that, in Westerns, usually end up having their crops trampled and their church burned down before up to seven heroes arrive to save the day.

Great grandfather Jacob and his brother Martin were Union veterans who moved West after the war. They weren't cowboys or renegades, gamblers or gunslingers but settlers - solid, family men with wives and children. They didn't cross the Missouri to seek their fortune or make a name for themselves; they were farmers seeking land. When they got to where they were going, they unhitched the wagons, planted a crop and built a town from the mud up.

So, watching Westerns with my three boys, I get to point out little bits of family history to them - give them a little reverence for the ancestors. Though, of course, none of our forebears were saints. Great uncle Martin, for example, had a habit of rallying concerned citizens outside the local courthouse with the strongly professed intention of lynching some felon or other. Thankfully, he was thwarted the two times he tried it - on one occasion, only by the stout intervention of the local judge who said he'd lay out the first man through the door.

Still, I can't judge Martin too harshly. I am bound to criticize his ideas on summary justice but, in his own estimate, he was a man of principle and fine judgement - he only targeted horse thieves and Democrats.