David Barton, Kids, Guns, and Historical Fiction

Chris Rodda pointed out here  yesterday that David Barton acknowledged getting the story about kids in the old West defending their teacher at gun point from a would be teacher-killer from a Louis L’Amour novel.  In an article on the Wallbuilders website, Barton admits using the story because Louis L’Amour said the story was true.

L’Amour introduced an audio version of his book Bendigo Shafter with a story about the West. During the introduction, L’Amour said this:

There’s a case I use in one of my stories; I use it in the story called Bendigo Shafter. All the kids coming to school used to hang their guns up in the cloakroom because they were miles from home sometimes, and it was dangerous to ride out without a gun. And this is taken from an actually true incident. I use it in my story and tell the story, but it really happened. Now a man came to kill the teacher. It was a man. And he came with a gun, and all the kids liked the teacher, so they came out and ranged around him with their guns. That stopped it. But kids twelve and thirteen used to carry guns to school regularly.

As Rodda points out, the story changed from the Shafter book to Barton’s retelling of it on the Glenn Beck Show. Here is what Barton said on the Beck Show:

The great example, in the 1850s you have a school teacher who’s teaching. A guy — he’s out in the West — this guy from New England wants to kill him and find him. So he comes into the school with his gun to shoot the teacher, he decides not to shoot the teacher because all the kids pull their guns out and point it at him and say, ‘You kill the teacher, you die.’ He says, ‘Okay.’ The teacher lives. Real simple stuff. Saved the life of — there was no shooting because all the kids — we’re talking in elementary school — all the kids pull their guns out and says, ‘We like our teacher. You shoot our teacher, we’ll kill you.

The gunman in Shafter was from San Francisco, but on the Beck show the assailant was from New England. Barton said the kids were elementary school kids, L’Amour claimed they were early teens. If there really is a basis in fact here, it is a fair question to ask: how much more did the story change from the original source to L’Amour’s book? L’Amour doesn’t claim to be an historian and doesn’t say what details were based on the account he used or what he added to make an entertaining novel. Clearly the reason one does not do history this way is because the narrative can change dramatically from the first telling to the last.  It would make a great Hallmark movie but as historical fiction, not history.

The problem is that those who consume Barton’s materials think he is bringing them the real deal, the hidden history that mainstream historians don’t know or don’t want the public to know. However, because he doesn’t tell them until challenged, they are not aware of the nature of the evidence being presented.

I grew up believing that George Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree and could not tell a lie about it.

The evidence for that story is also hearsay and came from Mason Weems, a clergyman who wrote a popular biography of Washington in 1800. About the source of his story, Weems wrote in the 1833 edition:

Some idea of Mr Washington’s plan of education in this respect may be collected from the following anecdote related to me twenty years ago by an aged lady who was a distant relative and when a girl spent much of her time in the family. (p. 11)

This unnamed relative allegedly told Weems several stories about Washington. After one anecdote, also about honesty, Weems wrote:

The following anecdote is a case in point [about honesty]. It is too valuable to be lost and too true to be doubted, for it was communicated to me by the same excellent lady to whom I am indebted for the last.

When George said she was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond and was constantly going about chopping every thing that came in his way. One day in the garden where he often amused himself hacking his mother’s pea sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry tree which he barked so terribly that I don t believe the tree ever got the better of it. The next morning, the old gentleman [Washington’s father] finding out what had befallen his tree which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author declaring at the same time that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him any thing about it. Presently, George and his hatchet made their appearance. “George,” said his father, “do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden?” This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father with the sweet face of youth, brightened with the inexpressible charm of all conquering truth, he bravely cried out, “I can’t tell a lie. Pa, you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet. — “Run to my arms, you dearest boy,” cried his father in transports, “run to my arms, glad am I, George, that you killed my tree, for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees though blossomed with silver and their fruits of purest gold. (pp 13-14)

In the context, this and other anecdotes were supposed to illustrate the superior upbringing Washington received as well as Washington’s resulting impeccable character. However, can we trust this story and the source?

The story and source for the kids with guns story illustrates how Barton’s methods differ from the historians he has criticized as academic elitists. The L’Amour story is interesting and could be the trigger for a search for what happened but is not proof and should not be presented as fact.

Historical fiction is entertaining and sometimes inspiring but it is not history and should not be portrayed as such.

The Beck Show clip is here with the L’Amour story coming at about 6 minutes into the clip.



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  • James Ferguson

    Sadly, the conservative “literary” community, for lack of a better word, prefers to work with such fables, because they essentially reinforce the impressions they would like to make of the founding fathers. It is like they never grew beyond illustrated elementary books.

    The shame of it is that publishers like Thomas Nelson print this stuff, including Judge Napolitano’s latest screed on “Theodore and Woodrow,”


  • Chris Rodda

    Thomas Nelson also still publishes Stephen Mansfield’s “Ten Tortured Words,” which, as I showed in a three-part review back in 2007 on Talk2Action, not only contains quotes from Barton’s “Unconfirmed Quotations” list, but other historically inaccurate material from Barton’s writings, some of it practically plagiarized.

    Here are the links to my review if anyone wants to read this oldie but goodie:

    Part 1: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2007/8/13/16117/9532

    Part 2: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2007/8/19/203450/903

    Part 3: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2007/8/25/23580/0933

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Barton slips the noose again. The story is putatively true, not fabricated.

    Y’know, everything isn’t criminal court. Well, for y’all, when it comes to Barton, it is. But civil court knows that “beyond a reasonable doubt” is impossible for most things. “Preponderance of the evidence” is the standard. In this case, if L’Amour’s word isn’t good enough, that’s fine. But it could be true.

    B-b-b-b-but Parson Weems! B-b-b-but look over here behind this link, something completely different against Barton!

    Yo, chill. Barton is acquitted here. Just acknowledge it.

  • Tom – As a psychologist, I understand how two people can look at the same set of facts and come away with different conclusions.

    However, there are some standards that can be applied no matter what one’s opinion is and I can tell you that he would never be able to get away with that in an undergraduate history (or psychology, for that matter) class. Neither would you.

  • Chris Rodda

    So it’s OK to state something as historical fact because it could be true? Seriously?

    And I think the Parson Weems comparison is entirely appropriate. Weems himself said that what he wrote was the biography that people wanted to read, and millions of people over the years were taught and believed the stories in it because that’s what they wanted to believe. Sounds a lot like Barton to me.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Ad hom. Argumentum ad Hitlerum, or in this case, argumentum ad Weems.

    And Warren, he was on a talk show fer crissakes. It wasn’t a formal argument. People talk [stuff] all the time. Even the president.



    You didn’t nail Barton, the attack was petty in the first place, and it would have been better to just give him a provisional pass on this [failed] attack against him, since he has one witness, Louie L’Amour, whereas you have nothing.

    Case dismissed.

  • Tom – If I want to know the score, I will be sure to ask you.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Cheers. I’ve had my say and thx for permitting it to appear.

  • Bob Hunter

    Tom I think you miss the point. Of course there is no high standard of proof needed for a tale that could possibly be true. But when you tell tales to illustrated that the professional historians are not giving the heritage its due, then you had better have some evidence — at least as good as the evidence these historians hold themselves to.

  • Chris Rodda

    Oh well, Stephen Colbert thought it was interesting enough to use on his show last night, and Colbert’s opinion means much more to me than Tom’s. 🙂

    I posted the clip from Colbert’s show over on FTB:


  • Lynn David

    Any historian worth his salt wouldn’t use Louis L’Amour as a source for a factual piece of information, unless L’Amour himself had included a proven reference. Had a reputable historian used such a reference he would have explained the circumstances concerning the reference. Barton failed to meet that standard when he first used the reference.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Y’all are completely unconcerned about whether the story is true. The agenda isn’t truth then, nailing Barton is. You should have just withdrawn the attack and tried again some other day with something more solid. I can’t believe you’re losing to this guy.

  • Chris Rodda

    Yeah, Tom, I’m so unconcerned about whether or not the story is true that

    I actually spent a significant amount of time attempting to find a real story that matched the one in the novel by doing a broad search of the Newsbank historical newspapers archive (broad meaning a search on words that would have to appear in an article about such an incident – like “teacher” and “school” – over the time period of 1840-1880 in all of the western states that were being settled during that time). I scrolled through thousands of hits of articles with the word “teacher” or “school” in them, and found nothing about any incident even remotely similar to the one in L’Amour’s novel. (I did, however, stumble across some other quite interesting stuff, as I almost always do when casting such a wide net like I had to for this search because of the complete lack of details, but finding other interesting stuff is what makes me willing to spend the time it takes to do a search like this one that involved having to scroll through page after page after page of old articles.)

  • Emily K

    I actually never expected Barton to admit the story was from a novel, and an unsubstantiated source. But I do think it’s amazing that even from such an extraordinary story, Barton felt the need to still further exaggerate the narrative: he claimed the children were not teens, but elementary-age. This makes a huge difference in my mind. Back in those days, and I think especially on the frontier, being 16 was old enough to start a career and get married. (Laura Ingles Wilder of “Little House” fame did just that, if I remember correctly.) So, the original version of the tale has kids who are on the cusp of cultural adulthood bringing guns to school, as opposed to, say, 8 year olds.

    “It could have been true” is a flimsy excuse. It doesn’t fly with professional researchers, which, his whining about “elites” notwithstanding, Barton clearly wants to be considered. Too bad facts seem to always get in the way of his transparent political goals.

    It all reminds me of one of those infamous Dr. Cameron stories – the one where he riles up a crowd against gays by saying one gay man abused a child so badly he severed the boy’s genitals. It turned out the story was a complete fabrication, used to inflame tempers, but Cameron covered it up by saying “well, it COULD have happened.” Sure. And it CAN snow in Florida. It just hardly ever happens. So unless it actually does happen, there’s no need to break out the shovels just yet.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    “Could” have happened is being used sophistically here, exploiting two possible meanings

    1) “Perhaps it happened” is the sense intended here

    2) “Could have happened” in the sense of the gay-baiting story above does not maintain that perhaps it did.

    Completely different. I’d say there’s a good chance the substance of students shooting their teacher’s attacker is true in some form. The gay-baiting “Dr. Cameron stories,” clearly not.


    Yeah, Tom, I’m so unconcerned about whether or not the story is true that

    I actually spent a significant amount of time attempting to find a real story that matched the one in the novel

    Actually, Chris, by your own account


    you didn’t entertain the thought it was true*. As is your custom, you went shopping to find out how Barton may have exaggerated the story. As always, your intent was to “get” him, not prove him right. Hey, it’s your thing.

    [Unless you want to show us all the occasions you looked him out and found he was right, then wrote about it. We’ll assume in advance that had you substantiated the students/guns story, you’d have confirmed it immediately on The Huffington Post if you say so.]

    I therefore challenge David Barton to provide a source for the story he told on Beck’s show

    So he did. Louis L’Amour, saying he read it somewhere. And contrary to the commenters here who think historians apply the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard to everything they say and write, that’s just not so. Books on history would be pretty empty and dry if that were so. “Oral” history is nearly complete hearsay. You do your best to find the true story.

    Is David Barton a[n] historian? No. Neither are his most vociferous critics. And if Glenn Beck is the Toy Dept., Stephen Colbert is the gumball machine. They all have agendas, they tell as much of the story as suits their purpose.

    So you listen to everybody and make up your own mind. The biggest irony is that there are estimable scholars like Daniel Dreisbach and Philip Hamburger who make the same arguments, but they’re ignored. The only reason any of this is seeing the light of day is David Barton, warts and all.

    So it goes.


    *”I assumed that Barton was either exaggerating a real story or just making the whole thing up, but since he didn’t give any source for the story or enough specifics to fact check it, I thought it would be impossible to find out whether or not there was any truth to it. I didn’t even consider that it might have come from a novel…”

  • ken

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    February 26, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    “Y’all are completely unconcerned about whether the story is true. ”

    Barton is the one who claims he is a historian. Barton is the one who claims his information is correct because he uses “original sources.” Barton is the one who distorts things to fit his political agenda. Barton could have easily prefaced his remarks with: “Louis L’Amour claims this story is based on actual events…”, but he didn’t.

    And once again, if this where just a single incident, it wouldn’t really matter. However, it is part of an overall pattern of distortions that Barton uses. And all of of these “minor” incidents add up to a major concern about Barton’s qualifications.

    “I can’t believe you’re losing to this guy.”

    I can’t believe you think they are “losing.”

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Oh no, I can’t believe it’s “ken”!

    Your arrival in this combox is right on schedule. Peace, brother. But Barton’s sycophants are no worse than those of his critics.

    “Y’all are completely unconcerned about whether the story is true.

    See, that’s the point. If there is one after all this. FTR, I don’t favor giving the kids guns. But the adults, yeah, if they want them.

    Because if I were a kid in school, I’d absolutely love the idea that some of my teachers have guns, in case one of those Columbine-type fucking maniacs walks in here.

    THAT’S a teacher I respect, and am ready to listen to. [And that includes the female teachers. I love broads.]

    Y’know, kids are the best judges of teachers.


    I bet that if teachers could choose have guns to defend their students or not [carried or stashed], and they kept it secret, the kids could tell who was who.

    And as much as I completely admire the pacifist who would die so that others may live, when push comes to shove there’s a lot to respect about those who shove back. Hard.

  • Chris Rodda

    FTR, Tom, I have never ignored Daniel Dreisbach. I wrote plenty about him, and his and Robert Cord’s (since he borrowed so heavily from Cord) more subtle ways of distorting history, in Liars For Jesus.

    And, also FTR, I began my search of old newspapers and other sources before I posted my first post questioning what Barton’s source was and challenging him to produce his source. As soon as the commenter who said it sounded like the Bendigo Shafter story posted their comment on my initial post debunking Barton’s Second Amendment book, I immediately downloaded the novel and hit the Newsbank archive. After Barton posted his admission that the story was in fact from the novel, I expanded my search to cover a longer time period and did a more extensive search, and then did even another search after that specifically for the states of Wyoming (where Bendigo Shafter was set), Texas (which he mentioned in the recording), and South Dakota (because the audio introduction was to L’Amour’s story Deadwood and he cited another source, a book, that he used for that story), thinking that these states deserved another sweep since they were the three specifically named. So, stop making assumptions about what I do and don’t do when I’m researching something. You have no idea how diligently I search or at what point I feel that I have done enough research to post something. You may think you know everything about everybody, but I can assure you that you don’t.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    [Unless you want to show us all the occasions you looked him out and found he was right, then wrote about it. We’ll assume in advance that had you substantiated the students/guns story, you’d have confirmed it immediately on The Huffington Post if you say so.]

  • Patrocles

    There are a lot of persons who are prepared to shift their scientific rules or standards if it serves nailing a contrahent. Notwithstanding, I think that Dr. Throckmorton is rather the scrupulous kind of guy and would abhor doing such a thing conscientously. (But we shouldn’t forget that a lot of his sources are less scrupulous, like Right Wing Watch etc.)

    On the other hand, I’m under the impression that his grip on the logic of science is (a) naive and (b) antiquated. It is grounded in a kind of “positivism” which I have often found by the more conservative historians (but which was debunked by Karl Popper some decades ago).

    Accuracy and certainty (provenness) are infinitesimal values. That means that you simply cannot get at a level of absolute accuracy or absolute certainty (provenness). Your sayings should well be as accurate and as proven, as is required by context of debate and as is possible by your conditions of research.

    • Shorter Patrocles: It is ok to make up something plausible if it is required by the context of the debate.

      Like Tom and Barton, you wouldn’t make it past History 101 here.

  • ken

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    February 26, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    “But Barton’s sycophants are no worse than those of his critics.”

    Actually you are, because you refuse to even acknowledge the pattern to his misinformation. You deliberately try to focus on the leaves of the trees while ignoring those who are you trying to show you the forest.

    ““Y’all are completely unconcerned about whether the story is true.

    See, that’s the point.”

    No they are concerned with whether the story is true, but they are also concerned with the validity of the story. And how it was presented.

    “And that includes the female teachers. I love broads.”

    But you clearly don’t respect them.

  • Bill Fortenberry

    Let me make a very minor point, here. Chris, I agree that Barton should have given the source of his account at the outset, but I am curious as to whether you have ever read L’Amour’s autobiography. The fact that you searched through newspapers to confirm his account seems to indicate that you have not. It has been some time since I read it, but I seem to recall L’Amour explaining that his stories came from personal interviews that he conducted with old timers that he ran into all across the western United States. An account of school kids preventing a man from shooting their teacher is not likely to have appeared in any newspaper (It’s seldom news when no one dies), so if the account is true as L’Amour claimed, then it seems quite possible that he obtained it from someone who was actually there.

  • Patrocles


    first, I didn’t want to say “conscientously”, but “consciously”. So sorry!

    Secondly, I didn’t want to say that you are allowed to make up something. And in fact I didn’t say that. You must not make up something. But, as Popper says, even the so-called “basic sentences” of positivist science (assertions about individual (historical) facts) remain always hypothetical – in one debate we may agree to take them as basis of an argument, and in another debate we can question them. Read the chapter about basic sentences in “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” (which I, by the way, would see as inevitable for undergraduates in epistemology).

  • Patrocles

    I know that that fallibilism – there’s no firm ground under your feet – is disinquieting for a positivist. But one gets used to it.

    • Pat – As a psychologist, I live with ambiguity and few right answers. I am used to it. In fact, my skepticism of the right answers offered by evangelicals in the US is why I am regarded so highly by the culture war complex (sarcasm alert).

      However, there are guidelines in doing history well and passing off stories which cannot verified or examined as fact is not good history. One does need to read Popper to know that.

  • ken

    Bill Fortenberry says:

    February 27, 2013 at 8:43 am

    “so if the account is true as L’Amour claimed, then it seems quite possible that he obtained it from someone who was actually there.”

    That is a big assumption, since L’Amour didn’t give the details. Maybe he got it from someone who heard it from someone who claimed he was there. We don’t know how far removed the person who told L’Amour story was from the actual event. Nor do we know how accurate the person was in his recollection of the event or how rigorous L’Amour was in getting at what actually happened. I.e. was L’Amour just looking for stories of the old west for his novels or was he acting as a historian trying to get an accurate accounting of the late 1800s (or something in between)?

    A historian would have tried to verify the story: tried to get accounts from others who where their, gotten specifics of names/dates then tried to verify the facts (i.e. was there a teacher of that name at that time? were there any records of the gun man? etc).

    Even if L’Amour got the story from someone who was in the class, it doesn’t mean it was an accurate account of what happened. I’ve had a friend tell stories of a class we were in together that wasn’t an accurate representation of the class. Because my friend was trying to tell a story that justified his opinion of the class/teacher, NOT give an accurate history of the class.

  • Chris Rodda

    Ken’s response to Bill was exactly what I was going to say. That’s exactly the reason that I made the comparison in my post to a game of telephone. L’Amour said he collected his stories from multiple types of sources – newspapers, books and diaries, and interviewing people. Since I couldn’t find any newspaper accounts of any incident even remotely similar to this one, I would guess that L’Amour probably heard or read about it via one of the other types of sources he said he used, meaning, as Ken said, that we have no way of knowing how reliable the source was, how many times the story might have been retold (as in a game of telephone) if it was a story he got from interviewing somebody, or if it was exaggerated by the time L’Amour heard it. That’s fine for a fiction writer, but not for an historian.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Like Tom and Barton, you wouldn’t make it past History 101 here.

    Uh huh. It was a TV show, Warren. We don’t hold people to scholarly standards when they’re speaking informally.


    Further, Barton/L’Amour’s story has the possibility of being true, unlike the First Lady’s. But this is about bashing Barton and holding him to standards we only hold our enemies to. If it weren’t for double standards, we wouldn’t have any atall.

  • Boo

    Every Tom Van Dyke post ever: “Hey, look over there!”

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Not at all. We’ve already caught Warren’s work against Barton in error on the 1788 Jefferson letter to Derioux, overstating it as a rejection of the Trinity, and on the Jefferson Bible not including Jesus’ second coming. [It does.] If push is going to come to shove, then I’m obliged to shove back. I hate rubbing people’s noses in their errors, but I’m not going to be the fall guy either.

    The purpose of this latest attack on Barton is to poison the well against him, not anything about the gun debate. And Patrocles and Fortenberry have already shown the fallacy of this approach to truth—negative, polemical—rather than an actual search for truth. [Or error wherever one finds it, such as the First Lady’s blatant, um, error about automatic weapons being used in the murder of that poor girl.]

    What I’ve been saying all along is merely Punk not, lest ye be punked. When held to the same unforgiving and often petty standards as Barton is, his critics don’t come out smelling like roses either.

    And with that, I believe I’ve had my say.

  • Chris Rodda

    Beck presents Barton specifically as an historian who is teaching about history, so scholarly standards absolutely do apply here, Tom.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Still, there are standards for formal works and for interviews. Many historians fancy themselves as “public intellectuals” and don’t hide their PH.D in history hat* while they’re pontificating. Indeed, Warren isn’t a historian, he’s got a doctorate in psychology. But that doesn’t stop him from presenting himself on a history panel as some sort of authority.


    Which is OK, and hey, I’m not saying you can’t call Barton out on an inaccuracy, but don’t expect serious observers to believe you’re doing it for any reason except to destroy him. The truth is not a concern except how it can be used as a weapon against him and his agenda by you and your agenda.

    This attack in particular, esp since it turns out it has a decent chance of being true in some form, was particularly inept. That’s what I AM saying. Rock on.



  • Tom Van Dyke

    It may seem like I’m trying to push you off a cliff, but I’m only trying to talk you down off the ledge. Let’s put it like this:

    “Historian” Chris Rodda [or anybody] is on the Keith Olbermann Show and says something I think smells fishy. Where did you get that, I might ask.

    Perhaps you reply, perhaps you tell me you heard it from Maya Angelou.

    Or perhaps you don’t replay. Well, that’s it then, the end—unless I want to insist you’re exaggerating or fabricating, or God forbid I want to call Maya Angelou a liar. The best I could do is present a contradicting piece of evidence and let the reader be the judge.

    Patrocles tried to say something important about what we can know and what we can’t. Very little fits into absolute certainty. Just because David Barton considers himself an historian doesn’t mean he can’t go on TV to comment on a current issue and use a story he believes to be true.

    We have historians operating as “public intellectuals” all the time, writing op-eds in the papers, magazine articles in The New Republic, what haveyou.

    Now, god help ’em if they punt a factoid, mind you. But since Barton hasn’t been proved wrong here [and it’s hard to prove a negative], to insist he can only tell stories that meet the “beyond the shadow of a doubt” standard is the formalism game—just a game, and not the search for truth.


  • Emily K

    I don’t see Warren as being an “authority” on something as much as a “fact-checker.” And to give you an idea of how humble the career of a fact-checker is, ask any intern at any high-profile magazine.

    I think Barton will always have an audience of SOME sort – revisionism is pretty popular among certain types of enthusiasts. I personally don’t really see a benefit in clinging to things that have been proven false, or even not-quite-true.

  • Chris Rodda

    Tom, I think you’re the one who needs to be talked down off a ledge. You get way to worked up in your commenting on any blog criticizing Barton. Maybe Warren can help you with your problem, since, as you point out, his degree is in psychology. 😉

  • ken

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    February 27, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    “Still, there are standards for formal works and for interviews. ”

    Yes, and one standard for both is not passing off as a fact something you can’t verify and in fact is likely to be unverifiable. Which is what Barton did. But again, this wasn’t a random incident, but part of a pattern. You keep attempting to paint Warren as being on a vendetta. As someone who is just taking innocent mistakes and blowing them out of proportion, but he isn’t. He is showing a pattern of incorrect information that demonstrate these are not innocent errors.

    “But that doesn’t stop him from presenting himself on a history panel as some sort of authority.”

    Actually the panel (http://gettingjeffersonright.com/ask-a-professor/) consists of:

    Our panel of profs includes:

    Rob Clemm (History, Grove City College)

    John Fea (History, Messiah College)

    Gregg Frazer (History, Master’s College)

    Gillis Harp (History, Grove City College)

    Paul Kemeny (Religion, Grove City College)

    Gary Scott Smith (History, Grove City College)

    Warren may be moderating, but he nor Michael appear to be on the panel. Although, he can clear up whether he is or not. But I’m curious where you got your information that he was on the panel?

    “I’m not saying you can’t call Barton out on an inaccuracy, but don’t expect serious observers to believe you’re doing it for any reason except to destroy him.”

    I’m a serious observer, and I doubt Warren is trying to “destroy” Barton. Expose him sure, but not destroy him. Barton is destroying himself by his reaction to any criticism.

    “The truth is not a concern except how it can be used as a weapon against him and his agenda by you and your agenda.”

    Now this statement is an example of “projection”, and frankly says more about you than it does Warren (or Chris).

  • Tom Van Dyke

    You get way to worked up in your commenting on any blog criticizing Barton.

    Not worked up at all, just beating you at your own game, the “formal” game. And just on this blog, I think, and my own, when Jonathan Rowe provides the links and pollutes my home blog with this nonsense. I don’t believe I’ve ever commented on your home blog because I don’t hound you or stalk you across the internet because frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

    Maybe Warren can help you with your problem, since, as you point out, his degree is in psychology.

    Dirty pool, Chris. Ad hominem. Attack seems to be your thing, your only thing. This is what I’m talking about. Attack attack attack. Barton critics don’t actually defend a point of view, they just take shots at him from the safety of the duck blind. Oh, and at me, as if I care what Warren’s buttwipes think.

    What is their thesis that they have to defend? That the Founders advocated strict separationism? Who knows? They have no thesis except that David Barton is a PooPooHead.

    Thing is, if you or Warren are ever ganged up on, assaulted, attacked and dehumanized, demonized and disrespected, Chris, if you turn around, there I’ll be. Count on it. If you know anything about me after all these years, you now that’s how moi rolls.

  • James Ferguson

    Good job, Tom, making yourself the center of attraction.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Dirty pool, James. I’ve been entirely logical about the whole affair.

  • ken

    Tom Van Dyke says:

    February 28, 2013 at 5:22 am

    “I’ve been entirely logical about the whole affair.”

    No you haven’t. You’ve set up straw man arguments, pulled in irrelevant issues try divert the argument, oh and how logical was this: “as if I care what Warren’s buttwipes think.”

  • Warren

    All – In my estimation Tom has succeeded to some degree in diverting the discussion from the post to ad hominems and petty issues. I think it is obvious what is happening so I would like to suggest that comments relate to the post and not to comment about each other or respond to other irrelevant items.

    From now on, I may delete comments which fail to relate to the post.

  • Alan Hopkins

    Wow – I’m amazed at the conversation here. What’s amazing is the *weight* that’s applied to this one way or another. SThis is the mesage Tom is trying to get across and failing to do so – not through weakness in his argument, but in the magnificant intellect in those who “rebutt” him. So as I watched that clip (wondering what i the HECK the author is talking aboutsince the conversaton had nothing to do with any school kids with guns… until the last 15 seconds!), in my mind I’m thinking “that’s an interesting story”. Beyond that – what of it? It’s true, it’s not true… whatever? Does it have real applicability to the gun-control conversaiton? Uhh. no. Does the telling of it validate the specious assertion that James Ferguson makes that (and I quote) “the conservative “literary” community, for lack of a better word, prefers to work with such fables, because they essentially reinforce the impressions they would like to make of the founding fathers”? Uhhh no.

    It’s just a story and the *weight* of it one way or another is fairly small. Rather more towards entertainment than information AND IT TOOK IT THAT WAY from the beginning! The whole article is laughable. To place any more value on it this way or that is a waste of time – at a minimum.

    BTW James Ferguson, there is PLENTY of material that is unquestioned historically regarding the founders that we can draw from to reinforce our impressions of them, their deeds, their courage, their sacrifices, and their impact on the history of this planet.

    • As noted elsewhere, the story itself has no real meaning on the current debate for those who are working in the reality based side of life. However, there are many who tweeted it like it was important and relevant and Beck has an audience who apparently cares about those kinds of stories.

      This is just the tip of the iceberg with Barton criticizing others for using secondary sources and then doing it himself. People who get tripped on the story are missing the real problem with Barton as an historical expert. Minimizing that doesn’t help; bringing light helps, even though it is painful for some.

  • Dave

    Oh bother .. right when I wanted to make a remark not specifically related to the post you brought the hammer down .. Oh well .. good for you .. ..a wise move . 🙂

    Back to the post …..

    While I know Barton is (at least on this blog) well known for stretching the truth or making it up as he goes to match his own political agenda.. I think this one is a bit messy. I am not sure from the L’Amour quote what part of the story is true (as he understood it) and what part is his own fiction. Now Barton obviously enhances the story . But I am left wondering if children ever brought guns to school. Do we know if this piece of L’Amour’s knowledge is true or not? If so it sounds a bit scary to me. Can anyone independently verify this or not?

    Either way it seems a bit irrelevant to me with regards to what Barton is trying to put out. I don’t think anyone today wants children to bring guns to school. So what’s the point of utilizing such a story even in its fabricated state? We live in a different time period and culture today .. what worked or was even allowed 100+ years ago cannot really be used to justify what we do today on this or any issue. Times change .. people change .. and what was perhaps at one time inconceivable is now .. unfortunately .. not so inconceivable. I am not saying we cannot uphold certain principles .. but .. cultures evolve .. people evolve .. ideologies evolve and how we apply those principles changes. Unfortunately, Barton and his followers seem to stay locked in a revisionist past that seems quite irrelevant to the questions we have today.



  • Dave – Agreed. There is a big “so what” associated with this story, even if it is true. At least two problems exist – one that Barton would use the story and call it history and then that he feels it helps his viewpoint to portray the story at all.

    One more comment about the process of the talk show. It is very clear from the way Beck interviews Barton that they have discussed what Barton will say before he goes on. Beck anticipates the stories with his questions and knowing something about the way talk shows work from experience, very little is really unplanned.

  • James Ferguson

    The whole thing seems tossed out to divert attention away from the real issue of how to address violence in schools. Pundits like Beck and Hannity have become very good at this, as has the NRA. Barton is pretty much in the same vein. I see the gun issue as an extension of the bullying that goes on in schools. Seems that most of these young shooters were bullied in school and felt the overwhelming desire to strike back. So, maybe if we address bullying in schools we can ease some of the tensions that result in these shooting sprees.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    All – In my estimation Tom has succeeded to some degree in diverting the discussion from the post to ad hominems and petty issues.

    With all due respect sir, it was your fans, not me. I’ve had my say and for the third time will attempt to extricate myself. Thank you for the forum.

  • Scotty G.

    I think the mentality that this is ‘much ado about nothing’ is incorrect.

    First of all there is the fact that this is an ongoing pattern from Barton. But more importantly is the venue in which this miss-information is being disseminated.

    For example a special on the History Channel could present some ‘less-then-factual’ data, whether the viewer accepts this information as fact, refutes it, or simply ignores it is inconsequential. This is because the viewer is most likely watching it purely for entertainment, idle curiosity, or at best for some basic study. The information gleaned would not likely be heavily considered in making life decisions or in political leanings unless it was for that purpose the viewer was originally watching the episode.

    On the other hand shows like Glen Beck’s is an entirely different venue. It is a politically based show intended to inform a segment of the electorate. Information gathered from the show would deliberately be used to make decisions in politics. Thus, the need for accurate information is much more critical.

    And if there is any doubt as to the influence media personalities like Mr. Beck wield over their viewers, we’re talking about a person who, in another time, and now just below the surface, would be considered, among peoples of various Christian faith (let’s say, so as not to be too indelicate) a member of a cult. Yet even with that knowledge there are countless numbers Christians (including Barton apparently) who see Glen as the next leader in bringing a spiritual revival, or at least putting ‘God in America’ again. And this isn’t something I’ve just read about, I’ve seen it within my own family.

  • Dave

    @ Scotty G. .. If you are refering to my comments .. I am not saying that this is much ado about nothing. I recognize that people get caught up in this sort of thing.

    However .. Dr. Throckmorton said it best and it gave me a chuckle when he said: “As noted elsewhere, the story itself has no real meaning on the current debate for those who are working in the reality based side of life.”

    Barton does take people into the non-reality based side of life .. and it is sad if people follow him down that road .. But for those who are looking at the reality based side of life .. what happened .. real or imagined in the Old West is hardly relevant to todays’ discussion.



  • Scotty G.


    My comment was not specifically directed at you nor a response to your comment. If it came across that way, I apologize. There was a general downplaying of the situation that I was commenting on.

    While I don’t mean to speak from an alarmist standpoint, I think; regardless of Warrens statement about “working in…reality”, most of his posts suggest that more then a few in the Christian community who are not ‘working in reality’. This is likely in large part because they are not being presented with reality.

  • Patrocles

    “All – In my estimation Tom has succeeded to some degree in diverting the discussion from the post to ad hominems and petty issues. ”

    Notwithstanding – my impression is that

    – Dr. Throckmorton’s ideas about the “verification” of historical narratives (or theories as well) are overconfident

    – they lead him to divide narratives into two groups: either “verified” oder “made up” – a dichotomy which is quite wrong in my eyes

    – they also lead him to a rather intransigent, disapproving and moralistic approach when he deals with alternate ideas (what Popper calls the theory that “error is sinful”)

    – He would be quite right if he only maintained that there are degrees of confirmation or credibility, and that scientifical history needs indeed agreements about which degree of confirmation is required; but that those standards are inevitably conventions, not set in stone.

    In all those points, Tom Van Dyke was nearer to modern epistemology than Dr. Throckmorton.

    • Pat – Have you read our book? You really have no ability to know until you read it. We recognize that one must be tentative on some questions because the evidence is just not there to know. It is Barton who takes a little bit of evidence here and there and makes dogmatic statements about it.

  • Dave

    @ Scotty G: No offense taken. Just wanted to be clear. I agree with you that some/many in the Christian Community are not “working in reality”. But while Barton may feed that .. I don’t know that he is the first cause. Why folks are reaching for or are lost in this alternate reality is a whole different conversation which likely should have its own thread. So, in keeping with the guidelines Dr. Throckmorton has set for this thread (and as a general courtesy in avoiding thread drift) I will not explore it here.


  • Zoe Brain

    Let me get this straight:

    A story about kids “in an elementary school” is true because an allegedly true story about teenagers in a book of historical fiction was probably told to the writer by an anonymous source or even sources.

    Do I have it right? If not, what do I have wrong? OK, maybe it should be “possibly told” not “probably told”, but I’m trying to put the most favourable light on the claim.

  • Dan

    “Clearly the reason one does not do history this way is because the narrative can change dramatically from the first telling to the last. It would make a great Hallmark movie but as historical fiction, not history.”

    Agreed. Now please apply this same conclusion to stories about talking snakes, burning bushes, demon-possessed pigs, and super-strong men who turn weak when their hair is cut.

  • ken

    Patrocles says:

    March 1, 2013 at 6:36 am

    “my impression is that

    – Dr. Throckmorton’s ideas about the “verification” of historical narratives (or theories as well) are overconfident

    – they lead him to divide narratives into two groups: either “verified” oder “made up” – a dichotomy which is quite wrong in my eyes”

    Yes, your dichotomy is quite wrong. There are many ways to classify a narrative(note this list is not intended to be definitive nor exhaustive): “assertions supported by facts” , “assertions not supported by facts”, “assumptions supported by facts”, “assumptions not supported by facts”, “assumptions contrary to the facts”, “assertions contrary to the facts”, “assumptions presented as facts”, “outright lies”.

    Warren’s main focus has been the last 2 in the list (combined with “assumptions not supproted by the facts”). But that doesn’t mean he only classifies narratives in 2 ways.

  • Chris Rodda

    We also shouldn’t forget that this L’Amour story was just one of the things told by Barton in this Glenn Beck segment in his attempt to back up his claim that learning to use guns was a regular part of education for all children. The L’Amour story was sandwiched in between a misquote of a John Quincy Adams letter (a misquote that he repeated in his website article admitting his use of the L’Amour story), a quote from a Jefferson letter that I consider to be a lie by omission (he quoted Jefferson telling his nephew to take breaks from his studying to exercise, and the exercise Jefferson recommended was long walks and shooting, but he omitted the fact that Jefferson’s rules at the University of Virginia prohibited students from keeping firearms) before the L’Amour story, and his claim that there were only two gun accidents in the entire two hundred year period when children were, according to Barton, taught to use guns as part of their schooling (on his radio show Barton claimed he could only find two gun accidents in the founding era; on Beck’s show he made this claim even more ridiculous, claiming that there were only two gun accidents in a two hundred year period).

    I wrote this post about these other things Barton said in along with the L’Amour story:


  • Scotty G.

    Not to go completely off topic, but since the question was put out there:


    Because those ‘stories’ you mention were given/written by first hand witnesses, some of the incidences you mention were reported by several different witnesses.

    Bringing this back to the subject at hand, the examples you give are not in any way analogous to the ‘I-heard-from-someone-who-heard-from-someone’ scenario that surrounds the kids with guns claim by Barton. Not that that was the driving point of your antagonistic comment.

    Those here criticizing Barton for this statement regarding the gun toting kids are not claiming it never happened, but since it cannot be verified then it cannot be presented as fact.

    Could it have happened? Yes, but I could also be 6’10”.