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If you want to find the beginning of what we think of as frontier culture—corner-notched log cabins, long rifles, and buckskin clothing—you can find it in the recollections of the elderly folk who sat for interviews with Lyman Draper and John D. Shane in the mid-nineteenth century. The old people weren't always clear on dates or facts; but their minds teemed with the details of everyday life, which is where history really lives. Listening to them tell about how they lived, where their parents and grandparents were from, where they landed and went afterward, it becomes obvious that frontier culture didn't start at Jamestown or Plymouth, but on the banks of the Delaware river, in the upper Delmarva Peninsula, and points west. Here several key ethnic groups borrowed skills from each other that would help propel them, before the end of the eighteenth century, through Appalachia and into the Mississippi valley.

In 1793 a Frenchman, the governor of Spanish Louisiana, Hector St. Carondolet, warned Spanish officials that a backwoodsman with a "carbine and a little cornmeal in a sack [could] range the forests alone for a month. With his carbine he kills wild cattle and deer for food, and protects himself from the savages ... He erects a house by laying some tree trunks across others in the form of a square; and even a fort ... by building on a story crosswise above the ground floor. The cold does not fright him, and when a family grows tired of one place, it moves to another ... " Theirs was not a national movement, but because of their wanderlust, and the methods of satisfying it that they developed near the Delaware, they exerted a crucial influence on national events.