I used to collect old United States History books that would have been used by my grandmother's generation and hers before that. In the section devoted to the French and Indian War I would often find an engraving of two men on a raft, setting poles in hand, riding on a raging river. One of the men was a young George Washington. The story told how on the way back from warning the French to vacate English territory, the other man, a nondescript figure in buckskins, had pulled from the icy water a young George, who had fallen from that raft. That frontiersman resembled Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and all our frontier heroes rolled into one. This was Christopher Gist. Now of all the famous men and women who have rated paragraphs and even whole sections in our history books, he got a picture, and deservedly so, because he saved the life of our yet-to-be first president. Every school child in America, up through the early 1900's, knew something about Christopher Gist, even if it were only this one fact - that he saved Washington's life.
Then came the "War to End All Wars" and the world was rocked by so many events, there was no more room in the history books for that picture. Christopher Gist became the "forgotten frontiersman." Simon Kenton and Lewis Wetzel still got some attention, partly because they were Indian fighters. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett remained in the public conscience with a new layer of merit, largely due to Walt Disney. But Gist, a man of peace and reconciliation, was displaced.
How did this first colonial explorer of the Ohio territory; the man who not once, but twice, saved Washington's life; an experienced frontier diplomat among the Ohio Indians; head guide for the fated Braddock campaign; top recruiter for Washington's army; Deputy Indian Agent for Virginia; how did this man, who did the work of ten men, get forgotten?
The answer is complex. One purpose of this work is to explore those reasons, looking for both the answers to why he was forgotten and why he should not be. The Cherokee and the Catawba mourned his passing, for they admired and respected him. Washington must have missed him. Since their rafting day, he had recommended Gist for every position he had held. A man with Gist's talents and loyalty would have been hard to fmd. But soon the War for Independence introduced a new batch of heroes; that and the building of a country conspired to leave Christopher Gist behind. . . except for our one image of two men on a raft.
This work will introduce Christopher Gist into the awareness of the reader. My research has led me to believe this is who Christopher Gist was -- a man who believed the White and the Indian could live in harmony. The years of warfare would have weakened that belief until, toward the end of his life, his primary job was to keep the Indians away from the White settlements.
The reader will soon notice that, except for the Prologue, all the events are presented exclusively from Gist's point of view. You will know only what he perceives; encounter only his private thoughts and feelings; only hear him reminisce. This will facilitate an unusual intimacy with our forgotten frontiersman. Historic figures of this magnitude are too often heaped with praise, cast in bronze and kept at a distance, lest we discover their humanness. But, having escaped lionization, there are fewer layers to be removed before we find Christopher Gist.