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Pioneer Stories

James C. McKnight's last book

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Aside from the scriptures and the words of the prophets, this is one of the books I would most like to convince my posterity and family to read — not just to put on the shelf but to read and reread.  Why?  Because this is the story of their ancestors.  This book tells of their faith and their pioneering spirit.  I make no secret of the fact that this is my favorite of James C. McKnight's books.  He put his heart and soul into this project.  He selected many of the best life sketches from his other books and reworked them here under the pioneer theme.  He did his best to make this book readable for both young and old.  Here the author has skillfully woven a beautiful tapestry of the lives of his people. 

  This book represents his most refined work.  He draws on the depths of his research and a lifetime of historical and literary scholarship to bring the lives of his ancestors to life.  These stories read like a novel, yet much of the information about real-life people would have been lost were it not for this volume and those like it.  This book acts as a "readers digest" of several earlier compilations written by James C. McKnight and many others.  The reader is clearly the beneficiary of stories recorded in diverse books and articles all reworked and brought to life in this volume.  It would have been next to impossible for the author to make reference to every book and journal he used to compile this material.  His material flows freely from his deep reservoir of learning and thought, pulling in a story here, a poem there, an historical insight here.  Many of these details are documented in his other books, but this project was to be first a storybook, second a book about pioneers and their faith, and third the story of his ancestors.

  Changed from its original format, this edition of the storybook has been put in the same large, hardcover binding as his other books.  It has been changed to a double column large print style to improve readability.  Since many of the original illustrations are no longer available, this edition has been filled with many old favorite family photographs.  It now comes with a full listing of the 125 people whose stories (or significant historical information) are featured.  These changes are significant enough to call this a second edition, and they may be important enough to the first edition owners for them to want a copy of this version as well.

  I am well acquainted with the circumstances surrounding the creation of this book, because when James C. McKnight wrote it, we corresponded together.  My wife, Marianne, and I even helped him work on the first story, "The Long Trek Home."  He was so concerned that this story be as accurate as possible, yet express some possible feelings of his beloved grandmother, Sarah Vilate Dalton [McKnight].  He had her journal from which that story was taken.  I can still hear in my mind the way he spoke her words of verse as she said goodbye to their life in Keystone, Nevada:

                                               Oh, these lonely hills,

                                                They have no charm for me.

                                                Oh, when I reach my home again

                                                How happy I will be!

  Since James C. McKnight passed away in 1995, I have thought many times of the reunion between he and that grandmother.  In fact, I can imagine how pleased he was to greet each of the ancestors he had worked so hard to find and serve in this life.  There is much that is satisfying, even sacred, about this volume, the stories it contains, and the lives of those who lived them.  If these are your ancestors too, then I plead with you to pick up this book often.  Read the stories.  Look at the photographs.  Thumb through the pages.  Leave this book out where the children and grandchildren will see it.  I am personally committing to be sure that each one of my posterity has a copy of this book.  I believe that from it they will learn lessons about themselves that will not be gleaned from any university on the earth.

  This compilation reflects a great work of gathering and preservation.  Take, for example, the copy of a painting that James C. McKnight found of Mary (Polly) Hawkins [Craig].  I doubt if many people have an ancestor — especially a woman — famous enough to have her likeness preserved on canvas from the 1700s.  On my family tree she is a full eight generations back, yet we have a picture of what she looked like, thanks to his extensive research in discovering it!

  So come with me now as we read these stories once more.  Come sit at the feet of Agatha Ann Woolsey [Lee], on her deathbed, and hear her tender, dying words spoken to her children and sister.  Come visit the hovel of Anthony Annable and see what it took to be an early 17th century American pioneer.  Read the actual words of Grandmother Frances Nelson Faulconer, as recorded in local Kentucky history, while she tells the story of their trek from Virginia into the wilds of Kentucky in 1779.  Come relive the conversion story of James McKnight or go with him and a missionary friend as they dig for gold in Australia.  Discover the story of the 17th century courtship between an early American Quaker ancestor, John Baird, and his sweetheart, Mary Hall.  Read the testimony of Grandmother Rachel Smith [Ross], who recorded her feelings of that special meeting in Nauvoo, Illinois, when she witnessed Brigham Young's voice and appearance become that of the deceased prophet Joseph Smith.

  Yes, I do love this book — and hope you will treasure it as I do!

  Ralph G. McKnight

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