Jed Smith: Trailblazer of the West by Frank Latham
Illustrated by Frank Murch
Revised and Edited by Michael J. McHugh
Finished: June 25, 2009
First Published: 1952 (edited 2003)
Genre: children, historical fiction, christian fiction
"Here, sonny, take a drink o' this."
Reason for Reading: Read aloud to the 9yo as part of our curriculum.
Comments: This is the story of Jedediah Smith. One of the lesser known, yet just as important explorers of the American West. He was the first white man to cross Nevada and Utah and the first American to enter California by land. He was also the first to scale the High Sierras. He managed to fill in large portions of previous "white spaces" on the map of the American West.
Jed was a mountain man, explorer, hunter and trapper but unlike the men he kept company with he was clean shaven, a teetotaler, used clean language and read his Bible every day. The book starts off right at the point when Jed sets off for "faraway lands" and ends with him deciding to settle down. Their is a brief epilogue that explains settled life wasn't for him and his death at the hands of Comanches.
The book is very exciting, going mostly from adventure to adventure leaving out the boring bits of life. Jed is shown as a strong Christian man with empathy for all those around him, yet quick to use his fists if need be. He's also shown as being compassionate to the Indians on his travels, always ordering his men to behave themselves, and yet when attacked they fight back readily enough and Jed is aware in his own mind of which tribes are already known to be aggressive and prepares accordingly.
This book will not be for everyone. This book is not politically correct. Jed Smith travelled in the early 1800s and his interactions and his men's talk of the Indians is that which was probably used by early 19th century hunters and trappers. The book has been edited and there is nothing offensive to my sensibilities though that may not hold true for others. There is a lot of battle scenes, Jed's men almost always loose against the Indians, but the scenes are written to be exciting. Written in the 1950s the book is written for it's generation of children, but again the editing has left nothing I consider offensive at all. The book is also unabashedly Christian in nature. It doesn't preach, but Jed is shown as a believer and as such he talks of the Lord often to those around him, who mostly are not themselves believers. But they become in awe of what Jed could accomplish through this God of his and that sets the tone for the book.
We enjoyed the book. A short read that was exciting, informative (I'd never heard of the man before) and brought about many discussions, both about history and faith, as we read.