Pioneer's Mission: The Story of Lyman Copeland Draper

Pioneer's Mission: The Story of Lyman Copeland Draper

Pioneer's Mission: The Story of Lyman Copeland Draper

Pioneer's Mission: The Story of Lyman Copeland Draper

Excerpt

Like Paul Bunyan, Lyman Copeland Draper is one of the legends of Wisconsin. Unlike the great Paul, Lyman Draper is also a controversial figure. In parts of the South, most notably in Kentucky and Tennessee, he is the "man who stole all our documents and carried them off to Wisconsin." Inside Wisconsin he is a fabulous character who brought to the state untold literary treasures which must be carefully guarded lest despoilers come in the night to carry them away.

Like many folk tales, the legend of Lyman Draper is compounded of half-truths. A romantic antiquarian, believing the heroes of the Western border had not received their due meed of praise, he gathered a great collection of manuscripts and notes which would rescue the pioneers of the Revolutionary era from oblivion. An innovator rather than an originator, he was a carrier of culture to the frontier, bringing imagination and zeal to the task of building a historical society in the wilderness. Believing that a people could lift itself by its own book-straps he founded and built a great library whose resources made possible a great experiment in extending the areas of American democracy. Withal, he was a frustrated man who never achieved his ambition to become a popular writer, and his failure to write the books that he promised constitutes his crime.

Yet he was a pioneer to history, gathering the first great collection of private nonofficial documents relating to the old Revolutionary border, and promoting the study of history in a state which, during the years of his service, moved from a raw wilderness to the verge of leadership. Others came to use his material, and to write, better than he could have done, the books he planned and dreamed. He created a climate of opinion--a belief that the West and its history was important--and . . .

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