From the Horse’s Mouth (and That of His Rider)

John G. Bourke and his truly heroic mustache.

John G. Bourke and his truly heroic mustache.

This year we’ve switched from having Anthony enrolled in an online private school to homeschooling him in a more do-it-yourself manner. We’re still using K12’s Grammar and Vocabulary lessons (I bought the full Language Skills package, but I’m ignoring their take on Literature and Composition). That let’s us address some of the kid’s complaints about last year’s packaged education. In particular, he was frustrated by the drive-by approach of many of his subjects–such as Literature dealing with excerpts from brooks rather than whole works, or History lessons that glancingly mentioned interesting topics before passing on to something else.

So this year we’re digging deeper. For History, Anthony is reading On the Border With Crook, Capt. John G. Bourke’s memoirs of life in the West, including service in the Indian wars, the hideous treatment of many of the defeated natives, and the cultures and people of the Southwest. Of particular interest, he was stationed for a while just down the road from us, at Camp Verde. Here’s Bourke’s take on how the disgusting condition of Tucson, including dead animals in the road, was incorporated into local direction-giving:

“You want to find the Governor’s ? Wa’al, podner, jest keep right down this yere street past the Palace sloon, till yer gets ter the second manure-pile on yer right ; then keep to yer left past the post-office, ‘n’ yer’ll see a dead burro in th’ middle of th’ road, ‘n’ a mesquite tree ‘n yer lef , near a Mexican ‘ tendajon ‘ (small store), ‘n’ jes’ beyond that’s the Gov.’s outfit. Can’t miss it. Look out fur th’ dawg down ter Mufioz’s corral; he’s a salviated son ov a gun.”

To quote Blazing Saddles‘ Olsen Johnson on Gabby Johnson, that’s some “authentic frontier gibberish.”

Actually, as much as that sounds like a bad Hollywood script, it is authentic. Bourke wrote in 1892, drawing on his own experience. It turns out that those script-writers weren’t being campy–they were drawing on history (not a shock when you realize that Wyatt Earp, in his later years, was a consultant to the early film industry).

Anyway, Bourke was a true scholar (on the board of the Anthropological Society) as well as a participant in the life of the West, and an engaging writer. I strongly recommend his work as an alternative to lifeless modern textbooks.

And, while we’re learning about the West, why not listen to it, too? While Anthony wrote in his History journal today, I put on Dave Alvin’s Public Domain, which draws on songs from the era. Let me leave you with “Texas Rangers.”

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