Coast-to-Coast Empire: Men Who Built America

Nathan Stevens as Kit   Nathan Stevens as Kit Carson

DATELINE:  On the American Frontier

The final installment of the History Channel epic in four parts, The Men Who Built America: Frontiersmen, satisfied on all fronts.

With an opening focus on the death of Davy Crockett in Texas, we found his arch-enemy, Andrew Jackson, had no use for the frontier hero in life, but certainly discovered his use in death. The annexation of Texas was another piece in the Jackson destiny for America.

However, his term was up—and his handpicked successor in politics was James K. Polk. He would finish the job by appointing another politically savvy man with ambition, John C. Fremont, to find a way to the Pacific through Oregon. Fremont needed someone in the ilk of Boone and Crockett to achieve his end: he found another in a line of homicidal wild men in the person of the pipsqueak Kit Carson.

Standing a shade over 5 feet tall, he was a dangerous and brave overage juvenile delinquent. You couldn’t ask for a man better suited to open up the pristine empire of America for settlers, a family friend of Daniel Boone.

Given over to Carson’s astounding abilities and achievements, the show rests heavily on the shoulders of another young actor, Nathan Stevens, who acquits himself mostly with a face that speaks volumes.

If the series has any stirring quality, it is the discovery of two new faces—Robert I. Mesa as Tecumseh, and now in the final episode, of Nathan Stevens as Kit Carson. They make the stories of myth and courage compelling adventure tales.

Illiterate and monosyllabic, Kit Carson was a man made for opening an empire. Though Polk wanted Fremont to galvanize the Americans living in California to revolt against Mexico, he was a tad too early: nature would take its course within a few years with the Gold Rush.

Nothing better suits American destiny than the clamoring crowds looking for a get-rich scheme.

Whether its accuracy is total or not, the series provides an entertaining and unvarnished look at American pioneer spirit.