NOTE: A shorter version of this post appeared yesterday at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.
The rumors are true. David Barton's story about children with guns in a 19th century classroom came directly from Bendigo Shafter, a Louis L'Amour novel.
Readers of my blog The Way of Improvement Leads Home will recall a post I did earlier this month in which I reported that Barton debunkers Chris Rodda and Warren Throckmorton traced Barton's comments on gun control to L'Amour's Bendigo Shafter. In case you missed it, here
(scroll down) is Barton on the Glenn Beck Show talking about a story
from the 1850s in which a group of elementary school students pulled
their guns on an intruder. (Barton tells the story at about the six
minute mark in the video).
In a Feb. 21 piece published at his Wallbuilders website, Barton admits that he got this story from L'Amour, but he argues that it is a true story. He writes:
account comes from noted western historian, Louis L’Amour, one of the
most famous writers of both historical western fiction and non-fiction.
L’Amour amassed a personal library of 17,000 rare
particularly focusing on the American west, including numerous
handwritten journals of frontier pioneers and settlers. Additionally, he
personally interviewed many personalities who had lived in the waning
days of the Old West, including gunfighters, cowboys, lawmen, outlaws,
and many others.
For his outstanding body of work across his lifetime, he received the
Congressional Gold Medal and then the Medal of Freedom from President
in life, L’Amour recorded a number of interviews, relating interesting
practices and incidents he had found in his research. In one such
interview, he related the specific real-life account that David cited – a story that he also included in one of his historical novels
(he regularly included numerous true stories and anecdotes from the Old
West in his stories). So not only did David not make up the anecdote,
it actually came from one of America’s most celebrated western
historians, who personally attested to its authenticity.
find it rather appalling that Barton would celebrate a story in which
kids in school are armed with guns. Yes, this is the kind of Christian
nation we want--elementary students packing heat.
disturbing is the fact that Barton is now using novels to make his
historical points. Even my 102-year old grandfather, who has read
everything L'Amour has written, is fully aware of the fact that when he
reads L'Amour he is reading fiction.
And why didn't Barton
mention the source of this story during his conversation with Beck?
After all, he gives so-called "chapter and verse" for every other
historical document he cites. Instead Barton tried to pass this story
off as something that was a legitimate part of the historical record.
This is what can happen when your approach to the past is motivated by
contemporary political concerns.
But even if the story was true,
by relying on L'Amour's telling of it instead of a first-hand account of
this incident, Barton violates one of his most basic
rules of historical interpretation. Over the years he has chided many
historians, myself included, for citing secondary sources instead of
primary sources. He has tried to discredit authors, including Mark Noll, George Marsden, and Nathan Hatch, for using second-hand accounts of events rather than eyewitness accounts.
For example, in this article
from the Wallbuilders site he criticizes "scholars and popular
historians" who "routinely utilize secondary sources or take quotations
from these sources." In the article's first footnote he criticizes me
for quoting John Calvin from Gregg Frazer's doctoral dissertation
"rather than the readily available Institutes of the Christian Religion." What he fails to mention is that the quote from Frazer's dissertation is not wrong--it can be found in Calvin's Institutes. It is a quote that is easily traceable to the primary source.
telling the 1850s story about kids pulling their guns on an
intruder,Barton is giving authority to an account from a secondary
source (L'Amour) that is impossible to trace to the original source.
Such an approach to evidence contradicts what the Wallbuilders website has said about the way Barton goes about his research:
and popular historians routinely utilize secondary sources or take
quotations from these sources, but when David returned to this subject
for his 1996 book Original Intent,
he decided to only rely on quotations that could be found in original
primary source material. In an effort to be thoroughly transparent, he
placed the handful of secondary quotations from Myth of Separation on an
“Unconfirmed Quotations” list which he posted on WallBuilder’s website.
At that time, he challenged writers on all sides of the debate over
religion in the Founding Era to stop relying on secondary sources and
quotations from later eras and instead to utilize original sources.
I wonder if the L'Amour story will find its way onto an "unconfirmed stories" list
can have honest disagreements about whether the L'Amour story, or other
oral traditions passed down through the years, can be used as
legitimate historical evidence. They can also debate whether citing a
primary source that is quoted in a secondary source is good practice.
But when David Barton attacks historians for using second-hand accounts
and then goes ahead and does it himself for the purpose of using the
"past" to make a political point on the Glenn Beck Show, he deserves
Yet another reason why Christians should not trust David Barton.