Captain Samuel Brady may well have been the most skilled, and most effective of the Frontier Partisans. The legendary Simon Kenton may have been his equal, but nobody was his superior. Operating out of Pittsburg from the late 1770s during the darkest years of the American Revolution, Brady led a contingent of hand-picked rangers on deep-penetration patrols into Indian-held territory between Fort Pitt and the Sandusky towns, headquarters of the British-aligned militant warriors of the Shawnee, Delaware, Mingo and Wyandot nations. Think LRRPS or maybe Selous Scouts in the Rhodesian Bush War. These men were operators of the first order.
He and his men rescued captives and stacked up a significant body count — sometimes in the most callous and brutal ways. It was a brutal time and place.
Sam Brady should be on some Mt. Rushmore of special operations forces, yet, despite his effectiveness, Brady is little known outside of the fraternity of frontier obsessives. Ted Franklin Belue, whom I greatly esteem, has crafted what is, to my knowledge, the most complete portrait of Brady available in the November/December edition of Muzzleloader magazine: Remembrances of Samuel Brady, Supreme Partisan in the Woods. It’s more than worth the newsstand price for this piece alone, but the edition is chock-a-block with Frontier Partisan goodness.
Ted honored me with a citation in his notes, for which I must offer my heartfelt appreciation. Belue’s outstanding book The Hunters of Kentucky: A Narrative History of America’s First Far West, 1750-1792 was a foundational inspiration for Frontier Partisans and a template for my own book, Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans. So, this means a lot to me:
Ted muses on the gulf between the fame of Major Robert Rogers and the relative obscurity of Captain Samuel Brady. Rogers is lionized as the father of American Special Operations, while Brady is little known, except among frontier aficionados.
Rogers got a lot of press early on, not least by his own hand. But he, too, might have fallen into obscurity were it not for the magnificent Kenneth Roberts novel published in the 1930s, Northwest Passage. It was made into a 1940 blockbuster movie, starring Spencer Tracy (which I feasted on every time it hit a TV screen when I was young).
Ted doesn’t think a movie about Brady could be made today in “woke Hollywood.” I would love to test that hypothesis — but not on the big screen. I think that one could make one helluva cable TV series set on the Ohio Valley frontier — if you make sure the native perspective is properly represented.
Imagine Deadwood and Black Sails transported to the 1778 Pennsylvania frontier. Pittsburg is your Deadwood/Nassau — a den of iniquity and political infighting. You have unbelievably rich characters to draw from: Brady, for one — the best special operator on the frontier; Simon Girty fixing to turn his coat; the Virginian George Rogers Clark with his eye on conquest; the mixed race John Montour tacking back and forth across lines of racial and cultural loyalty; the German scout Jacob Miller, an Indian-hater gone mad in a welter of blood. In the Ohio Country, you have British agents, and brilliant and committed native warriors like the Shawnee Blue Jacket and the Lenape Buckongahelas. You have Blacks — enslaved and free — fighting on behalf of the Americans, and escaped slaves living free among the tribes. Nonhelema, the “Grenadier Squaw,” Betty Zane down in Wheeling and the scout and dispatch rider Mad Ann Bailey offer today’s requisite badass women characters. Personal politics and vendettas inside the larger conflict of the American Revolution…
Hell, you don’t have to stretch at all to authentically hit all the desirable diversity notes.
Anybody know a producer I can corner in an elevator?
Ted also has a piece on the great frontier artist David Wright in this month’s True West Magazine. He’s been busy, carrying the torch of the magnificent history of the American frontier.
Validity, integrity and authenticity remain the watchwords of David Wright’s heroic renderings of the frontier. Born in 1942 in the hills of Rosine, Kentucky, the artist has built a storied career by blending on canvas his love of art, the outdoors and our nation’s fur-trade past. “I am fascinated with frontiersmen, the long hunters in the East and mountain men of the Far West,” he notes. “And I’ve always admired the lifeways and creative art of American Indians.”
Historians and frontier aficionados praise Wright’s work, while his artistic peers and reenactors study it for glimpses into an era when cameras did not exist. Critical to his muse is his rigorous pursuit of living history. “Utilizing the firearms and tools of another time gives me an edge in seeing what the lives of our frontier forebears were like. I know what it’s like to build a cabin, split rails, hunt with a flintlock and be freezing cold in 18th-century clothing. I know how wool feels in a snowstorm and how leather clings to your body when it’s wet.”