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The Frontier Mind

The Frontier Mind

Arthur K. Moore
Copyright Date: 1957
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Frontier Mind
    Book Description:

    In Kentucky, the first frontier beyond the Appalachians, Arthur K. Moore finds a unique ground for examining some of the basic elements in America's cultural development. There the frontier mind acquired definite form, and there emerged the forces that largely shaped the American West.

    Moore reveals the Kentucky frontiersman as a colorful, exciting figure about whom there gathered a golden haze of myth from which historians have never been able to free him. He finds that "noble savage" did not possess those high qualities of mind and spirit which both his contemporaries and present-day writers have attributed him. He especially questions the wide and uncritical acceptance of Frederick Jackson Turner's theory that the illiterate emigrants had vast creative powers and made worthwhile contributions to government, education, religion, and literature.

    The author, professor of English at the University of Kentucky, has shown how unlikely it was that the uncouth frontiersmen, subjected as they were to brutalizing influences and separated from the main stream of Western civilization, could find in themselves the intellectual and spiritual resources to create a distinctive culture. Far from displaying the benevolence and rationality imputed to men living close to nature, the frontiersmen proved themselves addicted to demagogism, narrow sectarianism, materialism, and anti-intellectualism.

    The Frontier Mindis an uncompromising book. It may not win your assent, but it will force you to reexamine the grounds of your beliefs about the settlement and development of the American West.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6380-2
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    A. K. M.
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. 1 A Long View of the Frontier
    (pp. 1-8)

    THE PIONEERS, it is widely agreed, abandoned the Old World on or around the Kentucky frontier and stepped the more lightly toward the far-distant Pacific. Writers concerned with the West have very often created the impression that the break with the burdensome European past was a wise and deliberate choice, on the whole beneficial to the emigrants and to the republic. This view tends to confer high purposefulness and keen foresight upon the pioneers as a group; by the same token the expansion becomes in its main lines an orderly movement directed toward rational ends. In this favorable regard, Transappalachia...

  5. I. The Garden of the West

    • 2 Eden Recovered
      (pp. 11-24)

      THE EARTHLY PARADISE is by tradition a far-distant region of extraordinary fertility, blessed with noble trees, fountains, and rivers, and screened by a perilous barrier—mountain or sea—over which only the valiant may pass. Men have variously located it—the Venerable Bede in Ireland, Michael Drayton in Virginia—though usually to the westward of the limit of precise geographical knowledge. Kentucky, according to report, substantially fitted the archetypal pattern and not unaccountably became in the eighteenth century the focus of the paradisiacal myth in the New World, although only the Blue Limestone triangle—with the base on the Ohio...

    • 3 The Garden Archetype
      (pp. 25-44)

      THE ECONOMIC motive has been most often advanced in late years to explain the willingness—indeed, eagerness—of the hardy race on the Virginia frontier to risk life and limb in the danger-filled wilderness beyond the topmost Appalachian ridge. C. W. Alvord declared with rigorous dogmatism that a “vision of sudden wealth in the exploitation of free land” acted like a magnet to attract settlers,¹ and in this view American historians have tended to concur. It is significant of a deepening understanding of the emigration, however, that R. H. Gabriel, while agreeing that the most powerful factors in the western...

  6. II. The Heroic Age

    • 4 The Tenant of the Garden
      (pp. 47-76)

      WHILE THE topography of primeval Kentucky shows fairly distinctly beneath the Edenic imagery of the early chronicles, the portrait of the frontiersman who discovered and for a time possessed the garden behaves like a kaleidoscope. Historians have insisted that a definable type arose in the wilderness, but none has yet removed the accretions of legend from the real character. The impressions of the Kentuckian recorded by early observers commonly betray a bias, either contempt for the backwoods in general or a disposition to idealize men living in a state of nature. There is of course strong antecedent probability of a...

    • 5 The Buckskin Hero
      (pp. 77-106)

      THE KENTUCKY frontier proved briefly for land speculators a source of quick and easy profits, but for writers an inexhaustible treasure hoard of story, as hundreds of travelbooks, histories, sketches, and novels attest. Since Filson’sDiscovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke(1784), with theAdventures of Col. Daniel Boonappended, few years have passed without the publication of some extensive relation of pioneer life below the Ohio. That the Kentucky drama remains eternally fascinating ought to occasion no surprise, for the setting is paradisiacal and the action utterly heroic. If all forms of warfare possess an element of color,...

    • 6 The Playful Savage
      (pp. 107-136)

      EPIC WARRIORS become totally admirable only after time has painted over the blemishes in their portraits. Though doubtless fascinating even at close range, the Kentuckian gave cause for offense in many things. If from one angle of vision a hero in buckskin opposing the common enemy, he was from another an utter terror and by his own admission “half horse, half alligator.” In the latter role the Kentuckian is to be discovered chiefly in the tales and sketches of travelers and journalists,¹ seldom in novels. Responsible romancers had little use for a character who by word and deed set law...

  7. III. The Forest and the City

    • 7 The Agent of Progress
      (pp. 139-158)

      THE IDEA OF the possibility of unlimited human and institutional progress fell on exceptionally fertile soil in late eighteenth-century America and germinated in a variety of more or less coherent programs for the development of the rich new country and especially for that part lying beyond the mountains. The manifest abundance, the relative freedom from traditional authority, and the quick rewards of enterprise every day contradicted religious pessimism and confirmed the optimistic forecasts of social philosophers in Europe during the century past. Although paradisiacal visions filled the westering masses, the occupation of Transappalachia was officially conceived in a rational framework...

    • 8 The Romance of the Frontier
      (pp. 159-185)

      WRITERS CONCERNED with exploiting in fiction the conquest of Kentucky and other western regions faced in contemporary social and economic circumstances a problem for which a wholly satisfactory solution could not be found. There was simply no honorable or even definable place within the structure of nineteenth-century society for the poor, illiterate buckskin hero—the agent of progress. Land he claimed in enormous tracts, and during the perilous stages of settlement sometimes occupied important offices; but once the threat of hostilities diminished and astute aristocrats arrived from the East, the frontiersman suffered progressive loss of both land and influence. When...

    • 9 The Child of Nature
      (pp. 186-209)

      RATIONAL PROGRESSIVISM expresses the official rather better than the private view of the expansion in the nineteenth century; the main appeal of the frontier for much of the public was its intimations of the primitive. While acknowledging the doctrine of progress and upholding civilized values, frontier chroniclers and romancers meant above all to satisfy the widespread interest in primitive modes of existence, an interest intensified to the point of enthusiasm by European naturalism in general and particularly by Rousseau’s speculations about man in the state of nature. If the untamed West of the Indian and the heroic white hunter was...

    • 10 The Rejection of Athens
      (pp. 210-237)

      THE PORTRAIT of Daniel Boone sketched by Filson had no more objective reality than the Kentucky garden conceived by enthusiasts. Filson’s motive cannot now be divined, but it is apparent that he clothed in buckskin an ideal form, namely, the child of nature postulated by the Enlightenment for the purpose of assailing the defenders of corrupt institutions, which shackled man on the pretext that he was incapable of governing himself. Since only an exhibit in litigation over human perfectibility, the “natural” man escaped close examination from a multiplicity of angles; he was not expected—certainly not by right-thinking philosophers—to...

    • 11 The Frontier Mind
      (pp. 238-248)

      THE DEVELOPMENT of society in the West may be regarded as a grotesque jest at the expense of the Enlightenment, for the actual pioneers displayed few of the qualities predicated of men living close to nature, and the defective culture which they erected in the fabled garden land disappointed even modest expectations. Unquestionably primitive, nature’s noblemen yet outraged romantics by their violence and animality. While readily approving that part of the progressivist program leading to luxury, they debased the concept of progress by rejecting the arts and sciences. Supremely confident of their capacity for making value judgments, they wrought as...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 249-260)
  9. Index
    (pp. 261-264)