It seems that unless somebody tells the story, or in today’s times, makes a movie, nobody will know. For the past few weeks I’ve been watching Into the West on TNT, which weaves a dozen different stories of settling America’s frontier into one six-week mini-series.
Tonight’s episode introduced and finished off (much too quickly) a story about the slavery disputes in Kansas that touched off bloody fighting and became a precursor to the Civil War. It became known as Bleeding Kanasas. Into the West told the story of an attack on Lawrence that left the city a smoking ruin.
It’s a frightening story of racism and violence and people fighting for what’s right. Yet sadly, I think few know the story. What little I saw tonight has piqued my curiousity, and I want to know more. I doubt movies will be of much help. The Ang Lee-directed 1999 movie Ride With the Devil seems like it might relate, but vaguely (it stars Tobey Maguire and James Caviezel). Consequently, it’s the most popular DVD in Kansas on Amazon.com.
[Even less related is CSA: Confederate States of America, a 2004 Kansas-made mockumentary about what would have happened if the South won the Civil War, but it came up in Google and looked interesting.]
It seems Hollywood can only ever tell the larger tales, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, the Cold War. Smaller stories of our history that have had just as great of an impact are often left behind. I suppose that’s where the novel is strong. And I suppose that’s where movies can change.
I think what is most moving to me is that it’s a story of battle and bloodshed that happened on American soil. I’ve been to Lawrence, Ks., and that makes it close enough to understand and come to grips with. In today’s world such lawless violence seems unthinkable. There certainly are places like that today: Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., but they’re so far removed from my experience.
I like to think as people we should be able to avoid such fighting, but we seem to be drawn to it. We are savages. We are fallen. No matter how civilized or technologically advanced we become, we are still broken people willing to shed blood.