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Feb 25 2013

Barton Admits Getting Gun-Toting Students Story from Louis L’Amour, but it’s OK Because L’Amour Said it Really Happened

So, David Barton, in an article on his WallBuilders website, has finally responded to the question of where he got the story he told on Glenn Beck’s web-based TV show about a classroom full of gun-toting elementary school students saving their teacher from a gunman in the 1850s. As suspected, the story did come from Louis L’Amour’s novel Bendigo Shafter. But Barton, who incessantly claims to use only primary sources, and constantly accuses anyone who criticizes him of not using primary sources (even when they do), defends his use of the story because L’Amour, in a recorded introduction to the audio version of one of his other stories, said it really happened:

“There’s a case I use in one of my stories; I use it in the story called Bendigo Shafter. All the kids coming to school used to hang their guns up in the cloakroom because they were miles from home sometimes, and it was dangerous to ride out without a gun. And this is taken from an actually true incident. I use it in my story and tell the story, but it really happened. Now a man came to kill the teacher. It was a man. And he came with a gun, and all the kids liked the teacher, so they came out and ranged around him with their guns. That stopped it. But kids twelve and thirteen used to carry guns to school regularly.”

Now, L’Amour did do research for his novels, and probably had some sort of source for the incident that he based his story on, but we still don’t know what that source was. L’Amour, in the same audio introduction said he used diaries, books, and newspapers. One book that he singled out as an example of a good source was a book written by a woman who had grown up in Deadwood, South Dakota, but if you look at that book (as I did, of course), you see that much of it was the woman’s recollections many decades later of things that happened when she was a very young child, making its details about as reliable as those in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Reliable enough for a fiction writer? Yes. Reliable enough for an historian? Not so much.

Without the where and when details of the incident that L’Amour based his gun-toting students story on, and not even knowing whether he got the story from a newspaper, someone’s book or diary, or just from someone telling it to him, it can’t be verified. We don’t know if it was exaggerated by whoever L’Amour heard it from, or if he further exaggerated it to make his novel more exciting.

Look at how much the details of the story changed just from the version in L’Amour’s novel to the version told by Barton:

Barton said the incident happened in the 1850′s, although Bendigo Shafter was set later than the 1850s. (A number of references in the novel clearly place the time of story no earlier than the 1860s, including a reference made very near the beginning of the novel to Bendigo being given a book that L’Amour makes a point of saying was published in 1859. In the story, this was before the man who would later become the school teacher had even arrived in the town, so the earliest that the gun-toting students story would have occurred was the 1860s.)

Barton, in his version of the story, also said that the gunman who came to the school had followed the teacher from New England. But in Bendigo Shafter the gunman was after the teacher for gunning down two of his friends after a poker game in San Francisco.

See how much a story can change in just one retelling? A gunman from San Francisco in the 1860s became a gunman from New England in the 1850s. How much might the story have already changed from whatever incident L’Amour based his novel’s version on? This isn’t a reliable historical source; it’s a game of wild west telephone.

To quote you yourself, Mr. Barton: “A similar corollary would be to study the life of Jesus only by reading The DaVinci Code.”

 

16 comments

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  1. 1
    Argle Bargle

    Since L’Amour died in 1988 we can’t ask him for his source.

  2. 2
    falstaff

    I have no doubt that something like that may well have happened. My problem was with Barton using it. If he hadn’t been called out about it, would he have admitted he used the novel?

  3. 3
    meursalt

    I find it pretty impressive that Barton wrote something like three single-spaced pages admitting to having done exactly what he was accused of, but somehow did it in a way that admitted no error or deceit on his part. Instead, it was his “obsessive critics” who were clearly in the wrong, since they didn’t bother to dig up every audio interview L’Amour ever taped to rule out whether L’Amour was referencing actual events (and even still, we just have to take L’Amour’s word, since he doesn’t cite his primary source as far as I can tell). Never mind that Chris charitably suggested that L’Amour may have been referring to a true story; she just wanted specifics.

    At any rate, that was Deadwood. There’s a reason Deadwood was the subject of so many pulps and Western films. It was a notoriously rough town by frontier standards, where citizens truly needed protection. The story isn’t that far-fetched in the context of Deadwood; this doesn’t mean we can extrapolate that eleven year olds were regularly packing around the Nation in the 18(which-decade-again-Mr.-Barton?)’s.

    At least he linked back to Chris this time. That isn’t typical of him, is it?

  4. 4
    meursalt

    oops, I didn’t mean to capitalize “nation.” Clearly I’ve reached my maximum daily right wing propaganda intake; I’m starting to type like them.

  5. 5
    brucegee1962

    Whenever you hear a gun supporter trot out the quote about “A well-armed society is a polite society,” I like to ask them if they’ve ever read any western ever written. Or seen “Romeo and Juliet.” Or the Iliad. Or read any news articles about modern high-crime neighborhoods.

    Well-armed societies are violent societies. Societies where nobody reaches the age of 30 without being scarred by violence. Societies where funerals are more common than weddings.

    But they’re polite! Well, maybe. Is this really a price worth paying for civility?

  6. 6
    Jason Rahall

    Barton’s “school teacher saved by students’ guns” event from ‘Bendigo Shafter’ was just referenced on Stephen Colbert’s show and checking Google I found your blog. Glad I found your blog; looks interesting, think I’ll look at some other posts. Cheers.

  7. 7
    Erin (formerly--formally?-- known as EEB)

    I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your books and your blog.

    Several friends and family members are big Barton fans, and they post a lot of regurgitated Barton (or Beck) BS on their facebooks. Used to be that I had enough historical knowledge to know they were wrong, but not enough to be able to tell them exactly why off the top of my head (or even know right where to find the information), which meant hours of Google searching to find rebuttals (that they would ignore, anyway).

    Now, I have you! Which means that 90% of the time, I already have the counterargument before they even share the latest bit of Barton garbage, and if I don’t, I know just where to look. I’m sure that in the next few days, my uncle will be crowing about how I was just so wrong and picking on that poor man (because he’s a Servant of the Lord, of course he will be subject to horrible attacks by agents of the devil), and don’t I feel bad for making fun of Barton for getting his story from a fictional western?

    Yeah, it’s nice to not have to research those answers anymore, and even nicer to usually be informed ahead of time. Although it’s starting to really annoy the Barton lovers on my facebook, to the point that I get much less Barton spam or arguments when I post anti-Barton statements.

    Which, just that would be enough to make me want to send you dozens of roses.

    So thank you!

  8. 8
    ambulocetacean

    I’m surprised that he admitted anything. Flabbergasted, even.

  9. 9
    Antares42

    Well to be honest, even if Barton could find solid evidence that such an event happened, no matter whether in the 1850s or 60s, or who was the shooter that was stopped, it would still just be an isolated incident, an anecdote.

    It still wouldn’t outweigh what you researched earlier, namely that guns killed people also in eras where “everybody had one”.

  10. 10
    gregorylynn

    So…he thinks “primary sources” are the first things that come to mind when you think about something?

  11. 11
    Reginald Selkirk

    Barton, in his version of the story, also said that the gunman who came to the school had followed the teacher from New England. But in Bendigo Shafter the gunman was after the teacher for gunning down two of his friends after a poker game in San Francisco.

    No prob. There’s a Vermont Street in San Francisco.

  12. 12
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    Keep up the good work, Chris. Colbert’s picked up the story now too (http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/424142/february-25-2013/the-word—silent-but-deadly?xrs=share_copy), and if you watch very carefully you can even see your name for a second.

  13. 13
    coragyps

    Over at Texas Freedom Network, Doc Bill pointed out that revolvers in the 1850′s were black powder/percussion cap affairs, and even those were fairly new technology. So loaded, ready to fire pistols just might be a bit rare among grammar-school students back then…….

  14. 14
    horus45

    Let’s not forget how much guns cost back then.
    I seriously doubt that a family could afford to purchase a gun for all of their children.

  15. 15
    jakc

    At any rate, that was Deadwood. There’s a reason Deadwood was the subject of so many pulps and Western films. It was a notoriously rough town by frontier standards, where citizens truly needed protection. The story isn’t that far-fetched in the context of Deadwood; this doesn’t mean we can extrapolate that eleven year olds were regularly packing around the Nation in the 18(which-decade-again-Mr.-Barton?)’s.

    Can’t be Deadwood. Deadwood wasn’t settled until 1876, and kids would not have been riding into town from miles away as the Black Hills had been off-limits to whites. The area wasn’t being settled by homesteaders raising families. In any event, riding for a couple of miles wearing a gunbelt would have been really uncomfortable. I can see some teen with a shotgun in order to hunt (if lucky), but the story sounds a little far fetched

  16. 16
    meursalt

    @jakc,

    Sorry for the late response. It’s already been established that Barton botched the date, as well as other details, and from what I could see, L’Amour didn’t specify a date in his interview, other than to imply that it was not long after the community was established.

    My intent may not have been clear from my wording. I agree that the story as told by Barton is ridiculous. Reading L’Amour’s version, without Bartons alteration, the tale is much iess ridiculous and far-fetched. It’s still remarkable and I’d want much better documentation before accepting it as truth.

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