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Review: History comes alive in 'The Men Who Built America: Frontiersmen'

Posted Tuesday, July 31, 2018 at 11:51 AM Central
Last updated Tuesday, July 31, 2018 at 11:52 AM Central

by John Couture

Last year, my daughter was in kindergarten and she got a project where she had to present an oral report on a Tennessee hero. Did I mention that she was in kindergarten? Sure, it's a magnet school, but I certainly don't remember having to do oral reports in kindergarten, let alone elementary school.

Thankfully, she was an early reader and still loves to read, so the research was rather easy. Check out a few library books on Davy Crockett (no, I will not introduce her to Wikipedia) and voila. Oh, she also needed a costume, so after fashioning a raccoon skin hat out of construction paper, she was ready for her big report.

She aced it. I mean it is still kindergarten after all and grades are still a few years off, but after reviewing The Men Who Built America: Frontiersmen, I wish that we would have had it for her report. The "docuseries" aired on the History channel and was executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. In other words, it was a well-produced and historically accurate look at the early frontiersmen that built this country, including Davy Crockett.



The four-part miniseries encapsulates the first 75 years of American existence from the American Revolution to the California Gold Rush. The Louisiana Purchase and the western exploration of Lewis and Clark are just a couple of the highlights from this series. In what the History Channel does best, they present the stories as re-enactments interspersed with interviews with experts and historians.

I always find this type of storytelling to be the most impactful because you get to visualize the events in the past and then hear from experts. History is literally brought back to life and presented with a production value second to none. Any kid would have been so lucky to watch this informative series to help them with their report.

While I consider myself somewhat of a history buff, there's no question that we can all learn something from this series. For instance, I wasn't as well-read on John Fremont and Kit Carson that I thought I was. The whole western expansion into California was fascinating and helped to augment my knowledge on these two pioneers.

The importance of history goes far beyond winning a local pub trivia game. No, the real inherent value in information is that it provides a strong foundation upon which we can build our values. You only have to look around today to see that we are a country divided on many issues and sometimes there's tremendous value in going back and heeding lessons from our forefathers.

While I am old and my idea of information gathering includes words like books and libraries, I acknowledge that technology is an amazing thing. Anyone can whip together a YouTube video on anything, but the attention to detail that the History Channel puts into their productions is quite amazing. As I said before, this series brings history back to life and allows people to digest the past in an easy to swallow format.

What makes The Men Who Built America: Frontiersmen different from other historical documentaries is that it doesn't gloss over the details and controversies to simply provide a dramatic interpretation. No, there are various points in the series where the United States is rightfully called out for their ruthless pursuit of land. We have a long and bloody history with native people in this country and, thankfully, this series doesn't simply provide a saccharine revisionist history account. No, these frontiersmen and their burgeoning country are presented - warts and all - in a fair and accurate portrayal of history as we currently understand it.

The Men Who Built America: Frontiersmen is now available on DVD and is well worth the investment in case you have any children with school reports due soon. Even if you don't, the series is an entertaining and informative look at the past of this fine country and something that we should all invest in for our future.