Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Matchlock Gun (1942)

I finished this book over a week ago and have had multiple opportunities to write about it, but just couldn't seem to bring myself to do it.  It wasn't a bad book, it just didn't strike me as a great book. 

In The Matchlock Gun, the Van Alstyne family lives in upstate New York in the mid 18th century during the time of the French and Indian War.  They have an old Spanish musket that has been in the family for generations.  When Teunis goes off to defend against Indian aggression, he leaves his wife, Gertrude, and two children, Edward and Trudy, at home, also the gun.  (He takes is more modern gun.)  Gertrude decides not to go to the larger house that her mother-in-law lives in.  Apparently, she has never approved of Gertrude, her being German, not Dutch.

They don't know what is going on and so prepare to defend their home against any Indians who might get past the guard.  Gertrude sets up the matchlock gun, an old Spanish musket, on the table and gives 10-year-old Edward a signal word of when he should fire the gun.  Then she goes out to pick beans, a pretense for keeping watch. 

The Indians have indeed slipped past the guard and as they chase Gertrude to the door of the house, she calls out several names, probably to make the Indians think there are many men in the house.  The last name she calls is "Edward" and that is the signal.  He lights the primed gun and it fires, the kickback knocking him onto the floor with the gun on top of him. 

Here is how it all played out.  Gertrude was hit in the shoulder with an axe.  Edward's shot killed 3 Indians.  The house caught on fire, but Edward and his sister were able to get out, move their mother out of harms way, and Edward saved the gun.  Their father found them there in the morning.
I know people's attitudes were different back then, but I really don't like it when Native Americans, or other aboriginal groups, are portrayed as less than human.  I don't think I would want my 10-year-old to have on his conscience the death of 3 people. 

I really liked the illustrations, though.
Edmonds, Walter D.  The Matchlock Gun.  Dodd, Mead & Co., Inc., 1941.

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