CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 4 . . . . October 15, 2004
Mountain Men portrays the lives of eight rugged outdoorsmen who lived from the 1730's to the 1860's. Most are American. The names of some, like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, will not be unknown to some adult readers. They have become the basis for much myth and legend in American culture and, as a result, often seem larger than life. The names of others, such as James Beckwourth and Jim Bridger, are probably new to many readers.
Author Tony Hollihan has specialized in writing books of this nature for young readers. These include Crazy Horse: Warrior Spirit of the Sioux and Sitting Bull in Canada. All are about frontier life in North America. He is well qualified for this specialty having a Masters' degree in American and Canadian history and a Ph.D. in the history of education. He writes with enthusiasm, and young readers will likely enjoy his books. Mountain Men, like his other books, is exciting and fun to read.
Hollihan often uses dialogue to tell much of the story. Readers will, therefore, find it more realistic than many history books. The use of dialogue, however, makes Mountain Men seem much like a novel. Hollihan claims that little of his book is fiction, but since no record of the conversations that took place in the frontiers of North America was kept, they are recorded as they might have happened. The dialogue is, therefore, not history in the traditional sense.
A major theme in Mountain Men is the struggle between white settlers and the Native Indian population. The latter's main concern was the loss of their hunting grounds as white people moved west, built homes, then villages and towns. Invariably, conflict arose, and often the natives came off second best. One can't help but sympathize with them as their traditional way-of-life was threatened, and eventually destroyed. Looked at from this perspective, the Mountain Men, who were at the forefront of white expansion, were not heroes at all but leading villains in a rather sad tale.
Mountain Men is well illustrated with functional black and white photographs of many of the people mentioned and with historic frontier scenes. These are spread throughout the book in the appropriate chapters. It also has three maps of the areas in which the mountain men lived. Placed at the beginning of the book, these would have been more useful if they contained a scale. Without one, they are interesting, but of little practical value.
Mountain Men is not suitable as a text but could be read for pleasure alone. The only teaching aid, apart from the maps, is a list of the sources used. All are secondary, including a previous book by Hollihan. While helpful, secondary sources may not be accurate. Even a book for young readers should have some primary sources. Mountain Men also contains no index or glossary. These are serious weaknesses and reduce the book's value. Both are essential in a book of this nature.
Thomas F. Chambers is a retired college teacher who lives in North Bay, ON.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.