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.

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Boone Starts Building America

DATELINE: History Channel Series

boone 1820   Daniel Boone, age 84

Leave it to the ever-sensitive History Channel to honor women’s history month with two new series. First on the docket is the Men Who Built America’s sequel: the frontiersman. The other is Kingpin, a series about four criminal thugs.

Don’t let that stop you from watching. The frontiersman series starts with Daniel Boone. It’s produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, probably based on his experience from playing The Revenant. No, Jeremiah Johnson is not among those to be studied.

As documentary dramas go, this is superb. It is an old-fashioned American view of rugged individualism. John Wayne would be proud, not to mention the Fess Parker. In the weeks ahead, the series will also tackle Davy Crockett, Kit Carson, Andrew Jackson, Lewis & Clark, and as a nod to political correctness, Tecumseh. That episode may be the most illuminating.

A few unusual commentators, like Gen. David Petraeus, offer their insights.

Boone was in parallel to the Shot Heard ‘Round the World in Lexington by defying King George and going out to settle territory beyond the Appalachian Mountains.

Boone was a superhero of the 18th century, running 150 miles in 4 days to warn settlers of an impending attack by Indians.

The show gives credit to the daughter of Boone, Jemima, who was heroic in facing kidnapping by Native Americans.

It appears the British put a bounty on American heads and gave the Native Americans rifles to take back their land. It was a losing proposition either way for them. The writing was on the fort’s walls when a rainstorm stopped the Native Americans from burning down the place.

Though it is basic American history, we suspect that most viewers will find it all new stuff. We are always grateful for intelligent TV viewing.