Taking Aim at an American Myth

Every American had a musket hanging over his fireplace at night, and by his side during the day. Like Cincinnatus, time and again Americans dropped their plows to shoulder their arms, to fight the Indians, the French, the Indians, the British, the Indians, the Mexicans, the Indians yet again, and then, from 1861 to 1865, each other. American men were comfortable with guns; they needed them and wanted them. They felt at home in woods, in search of food, or in defense of their homesteads. It is a story as old as our first pulp novels and earliest movies. It is larger than John Wayne and as real to us as Ronald Reagan narrating Death Valley Days. And, as Michael Bellesiles persuasively demonstrates, it is largely untrue.