The Matchlock Gun



The Matchlock Gun

by Walter D. Edmonds

Age: 7+

Interests: history, American history, war, family

Dodd, Mead & Co.: 1941

62 pages, 10 chapters

Other related American history books: Caddy Woodlawn, Farmer Boy, The Biggest Bear, They Were Strong and Good, Abraham Lincoln

Also by this author: Drums Along the Mohawk, Rome Haul, The Big Barn, Bert Breen’s Barn

Based upon real characters and events, this is the story of the Van Alstynes, a Dutch family living in the Hudson Valley in 1757. New York state is still a British Colony and the French are “leading Indians out of Canada against the settlers”. It’s a time of war. Captain Van Alstyne must ride with the militia to patrol the border, leaving his wife and children waiting anxiously at home. When Indians slip past the soldiers and begin to raid neighbouring farms, all the little family has for protection is the enormous antique Spanish gun that hangs over the mantlepiece. Ten-year-old Edward and his mother set it up on a table aimed at the door. When the attack comes, Mrs. Van Alstyne is injured by a tomahawk, but shouts the alarm. It takes all Edward’s strength and nerve to fire the gun off, killing three Indians and saving his family.

This is a good book for beginning readers, as it is short and straightforward, with lots of illustrations. The suspense and excitement at the end should hook young readers, though parents may be uneasy about the subject matter and violence. I found the story to be fairly dispassionate about the subject of race, there is no demonization of the Indians, it is simply the story of two sides during a war, and certainly the Indian raids on farms did really happen. The basic details of this particular raid were passed down through the Van Alstyne family to the great-great-great-grandson of Edward’s little sister.

It may be useful, however, to balance this book with a story like Caddie Woodlawn, in which the tension between settlers and Native Americans are explored in much greater detail. (In that book the settlers fear an Indian raid and intrigue to attack and drive out a neighbouring tribe. Caddie and her father succeed in proving they have nothing to fear from the peaceful tribe and violence is averted.)

The only thing I found odd and a little disturbing about The Matchlock Gun was the fact that Edward and his little sister pull the tomahawk from their unconscious mother’s shoulder, then sit outside as their house burns, not far from the dead bodies of the Indians, but don’t seem fazed by it all one bit. Tough kids.

As mentioned before, this is a good and easy story for beginning chapter book readers who like action and aren’t afraid of a little violence. Some discussion may be required to provide historical context.

(this title available at


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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