Like many others, I was greatly influenced by the 1967 New York Times best seller The Frontiersmen by Allan Eckert. This book has continued to be interwoven throughout my life since the day my Dad handed me my first copy.
In 1931, during what could only have been a blistering cold January day in Buffalo, New York, Allan W. Eckert was born; after his time. From a young age Allan was obsessed with nature, adventure and had a hunger to unearth the past. He began writing about nature and American history as early as thirteen and as a young adult set off hitchhiking and living off the land while studying history and wildlife. After serving 4 years in the US Air Force, the young writer set his course on an education and attended The University of Dayton. It’s almost as if those muddy banks of the Miami River had been waiting on him all those years. They had been calling for him to put its stories on paper.
The Frontiersmen (p.1967, ISBN: 0945084919) was the first of his books I ever read. Raised in Ohio, it was only a matter of time before I discovered the long-time resident of Bellefontaine, Ohio’s work. And although Eckert was a highly-acclaimed writer by that time, I felt like he had written it for me. I was the same boy. Growing up every possible moment outside, discovering nature hands-on until my mother’s twilight call “Time to come in!” had reached that special tone that makes a kid book it back to the house.
I felt like a misfit. My friends preferred to play the newest video games on the latest system, but I’d rather be walking through a muddy field hunting for arrowheads. Like Eckert, I was obsessed with the past. I shot my first deer with my Grandpa’s .50 Cal Thompson Center Arms Hawken. I mowed lawns to save up for my first muzzleloader, a Traditions Kentucky Rifle kit. I went to the Fair at New Boston in Springfield, Ohio every year to watch the demonstrations and dream of owning a painting by Robert Griffing.
Eckert had an unprecedented way of capturing those historically accurate events and delivering it in a readable, non-textbook fashion that fed my fire. And I wasn’t the only one. The author of 40 published books, Allan was nominated 7 times for the Pulitzer Prize in literature and received honorary degrees Doctor of Humane Letters, from Bowling Green State University and Humane Letters from Wright State University. Not to mention he won an Emmy for his screenplay work that also produced two highly-acclaimed outdoor dramas Blue Jacket and Tecumseh.
At 19, I was regularly visiting the Greene County Public Library’s second floor “History and Genealogy” department to read, explore and make copies of many of the same resources that Allan used to research and write so many of his works. It was there, on the florescent-lit oak table, that I would sit for hours reading the accounts and stories of Simon Kenton, Daniel Boone, George Rogers Clark and Tecumseh. I found myself driving all around Southern Ohio, using “The Frontiersmen” as a compass, in search of the exact places those events took place.
There were many times that I found myself wanting to dig up history just like Allan. To write about past heroes. On numerous occasions I considered reaching out to Allan himself to ask about an internship or apprenticeship. But life happened. I attended Wright State University, obtained a practical business degree, went to work, got married and had kids.
Before I knew it, it was late summer in 2009 and I was in between careers and decided to reach out to Allan. I filled out the contact form on his publisher’s website and simply asked if he needed any help on whatever he was working on and that I was eager to learn from him and I was willing to help do whatever grunt work research he needed me to do. I was a little nervous. We all have heard stories of people meeting their heroes with great disappointment. Plus who knew if the publisher would pass along my message? And lastly, I knew that Allan was 78-years old, and likely not computer savvy, so I expected I would never hear back. Nonetheless, I hit send.
Somehow along the way, his email back to me has been lost but his reply I will never forget. He thanked me for my kind words and my interest in helping him. He informed me he had just completed soon-to-be released “Dark Journey” and was taking a break for a while but that he would keep me in mind when he took on his next book. I promptly replied thanking him for the email and that I would be honored for him to even consider my help. I also asked when “Dark Journey” was being released. He simply replied “October. Best, Allan”.
-Andrew Scott Wills, Hawken Horse