Drums Along the Mohawk

by Walter D. Edmonds
[Atlantic Monthly Press and Little, Brown, $2.50]
THIS is a good story, however you look at it — whether you are a lover of exciting adventure in desolate places, or a student of American history, or a collector of antiquarian lore. It is not a great war novel: the events do not lend themselves to epic grandeur. But it is full of warm human interest, its characters are diversified and picturesque, it is written out of the same intimate knowledge that made Rome Haul and Erie Water fascinating.
Drums along the Mohawk is an absorbing fiction, carefully substantiated by reference to documents, of the struggle of the German and Dutch inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley against the invasion of British, Tories, and Indians from Niagara during the Revolution, reaching a series of climaxes in the battle of Oriskany, the relief of Fort Stanwix, the attacks on German Flats and Cherry Valley, the expedition against the Onondagas, and the last victory of the settlers at West Canada Creek. Some twoscore characters, historical or imaginary, play out their destinies, noble or ignoble, on a remote frontier. There is plenty of excitement, and the horrors of Indian warfare are put down without extenuation. But there is also plenty of humor and warm friendliness.
The historical textbooks say nothing about the little, local wars that were fought during the Revolution in the frontier states, north and south, or they misinterpret them, assuming that such isolated localities were more concerned with their own feuds and vendettas than with the larger issues of patriotism. It is true that to many frontier neighborhoods the Revolution had nothing to do with Washington and Gates and Greene, Lafayette and the Hessians, New York or Philadelphia. For them it was a private war, fought against local British, Tories, and Indians—an affair of surprise, massacre, reprisals, burnings, rape, and torture: and Headquarters and Congress were mostly a complication rather than a source of aid. Mr. Edmonds has set out to defend one such neighborhood from what he calls vilification, and, while the story he tells might be duplicated, with differences of detail, in Maine or Caroiina or Tennessee, this fact only increases the representative value of what took place along the Mohawk between 1776 and 1784. Students of the Revolution will be interested in the interpretation he gives to the facts.
I was particularly taken with his portraits of Indians and scouts. Old Blue Back the Oneida is very funny and very convincing; Joe Boleo, the scout, and his friend, Adam Helmer, the blond giant, will appeal to any boy of any age. But these portraits are really no better than those of the Dutch leaders, Herkimer, Demooth, Bellinger, Goose Van Schaick. Nor are the military operations any more interesting than the agricultural and domestic life of the settlers. And perhaps the most original feature of the novel is the account of the frontier women. The hero and heroine are a decent young married couple, Gilbert Martin and Lana, and the author has omitted the usual romantic love theme of historical romances. He deserves thanks. The women, from half-witted Nancy, who marries an Indian, to stanch old Mrs. McKlennar, who intimidates two braves in war paint by sheer force of character, are women of real life. It is they more than any others who make us feel the almost methodical heroism of a people who saw their houses, barns, and crops annually destroyed and yet never surrendered to despair. Readers who object to accounts of bloodshed can hardly fail to be glad for such a reminder of what people can be when they are stripped of everything that seems to us to make life worth living.