The Floyd Van Alstyne Story: A Video Oral History of America’s Oldest Commercial Truck Driver

Floyd Van Alstyn

This project is personal. I first met Floyd in 2015 when he delivered a load of lumber from the sawmill he and his sons operate at their farm in East Barnard, Vermont. At 97, Floyd claims to be the oldest licensed commercial truck driver in the country. As he dumped the load of rough-cut hemlock, he sized up the driveway I had been grading with a bulldozer.

“Not bad – for a writer”, he deadpanned.

He had read the book I had recently written about the Royalton Raid and he started to talk about it and the rest of the Revolutionary War, and then the War of 1812 and then both world wars and genealogy, the History of Vermont, and much more. Floyd has been reading history books all his life, but never went to high school. When he finished the 8th grade he had to make a living and went into the local logging camps and that was his life until he enlisted the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Floyd and his wife Marjorie are the oldest married couple in East Barnard. But age is not the most remarkable thing about either of them. What’s remarkable is the lives they have led and their encyclopedic memory of their experience – and not just theirs, but the handed-down collective experience of several generations of friends, neighbors and families.

This enterprise began as an oral history project to make a record of the lives of Floyd and Marjorie. They are part of an ever-dwindling generation of people who are nothing less than a national treasure, and I wanted to make sure they were recorded.

I have been video-taping them in sit-down interviews and in daily activity for over a year and have begun by producing a series of chapters: 1) Floyd’s early life; 2) Floyd’s WWII experience; 3) the family’s maple syrup operation; 4) the family’s sawmill. Other chapters would be: Floyd’s life in the logging camps; life in pre-war small town Vermont villages and farms; how it has evolved and, along with it, the landscape, the economy, the politics, the people.

View the video collection here on Vimeo.

We Go As Captives: The Royalton Raid and the Shadow War on the Revolutionary Frontier

We Go As Captives - Front Cover Image

The compelling story of the Royalton Raid.

Royalton, Vermont. October 16, 1780.

With no warning and in almost complete silence, a war party of 265 Canadian Mohawks and Abenakis, led by five British and French-Canadian soldiers, materialized from the forest at dawn. They moved so fast and so quietly there was no time for anyone to escape and spread the alarm. Prisoners were taken, and the town of Royalton was burned to the ground.

This was the last such raid to occur in New England, which had seen waves of conflict between indigenous natives and European settlers for more than 150 years. We Go As Captives: The Royalton Raid and the Shadow War on the Revolutionary Frontier, is a fast-paced, action-packed history that situates the raid in the broader context of Vermont’s role in the Revolutionary War and the complex relationships among the British and French empires in North America, various Indian nations seeking their own paths through the conflict, and independent-minded residents trying to establish their identity within the emerging American republic.

We Go As Captives revolves around the story of Zadock Steele, a young man who was captured in the attack on Royalton and subsequently wrote about his harrowing experience as a prisoner, first of the Mohawks and then of the British. Steele and some thirty neighbors entered the dark underbelly of the American Revolution. Barefoot, ill-clothed, at the mercy of people whose language, customs, and tendency toward mayhem were utterly incomprehensible, the captives were hustled north. After two years, as his resignation turns to despair and unaware that the war is about to end, Steele and a few comrades execute a daring escape from the infamous Prison Island in the St. Lawrence River.

Steele’s narrative is one of the longest and most detailed of all Revolutionary captivity narratives, and one of the most extensive documents written about the prisoner of war experience in British Canada. By using the narratives, letters, and diaries of Steele and others who shared his experience in combination with British and American military and government archives, author Neil Goodwin has written a deeply researched, vivid story of attack, capture, imprisonment, and escape. Much more than a riveting adventure story, We Go As Captives provides fresh insight into the Royalton Raid, the American Revolution on the northern frontier, and the motives and machinations of the European, Indian, and American players in this epic drama.

Los Diarios Apaches: Un Viaje De Padre e Hijo

Los Diarios Apaches

Los Diarios Apaches

La rendición de Jerónimo en 1886 no puso fin al largo conflicto con los apaches. Durante las próximas cuatro décadas, hubo amplia evidencia de que numerosas bandas de apaches aún vivían en las montañas de la Sierra Madre de Sonora y Chihuahua. A lo largo de la década de 1920, historias de encuentros fortuitos con apaches, de niños capturados y de sangre derramada pusieron de relieve la violencia creciente en las remotas montañas, que culminó en un secuestro y asesinato sensacional en 1927.

¿Quiénes eran estos elusivos apaches? En 1930 un joven antropólogo norteamericano, Grenville Goodwin, se dirigió al sur desde Arizona con el propósito de averiguarlo. Lo acompañaban hombres de la Sierra Madre que habían tenido encuentros recientes con estos apaches, y mientras guiaban a Goodwin a campamentos abandonados, los apaches muy probablemente los observaban sigilosamente.

Los diarios de Grenville Goodwin, que detallan esta heroica pesquisa, han sido editados y anotados por su hijo Neil, nacido tres meses antes de la trágica muerte de su padre en 1940. Neil Goodwin utiliza los diarios para entablar un diálogo con el padre que nunca conoció. Volviendo sobre los pasos de su padre, detectando el viejo rastro, apenas tangible, Neil yuxtapone las entradas de su propio diario a las antiguas de su padre, creando un momento de conversación y comunidad de ideas entre el padre y el hijo, al mismo tiempo que resuelve misterios perdurables.

Grenville Goodwin (1907-1940), conocido y respetado etnógrafo de los apaches, fue el autor de La Organización Social de los Apaches del Oeste, Mitos y Cuentos de los Apaches de la Montaña Blanca, y Practicas de Redada y Guerra de los Apaches del Oeste.

Neil Goodwin es un cineasta, productor de muchos documentales para la Televisión Pública Americana sobre temas relacionados con la naturaleza, la ciencia, la etnografía y la historia.

The Apache Diaries: A Father-Son Journey

Book Cover for Apache Diaries

The Apache Diaries

The surrender of Geronimo in 1886 did not mark the end of Apache resistance to white encroachment. Over the next four decades, rumors persisted about a band of “wild” Apaches in the Sierra Madre Mountains of northern Mexico. Throughout the 1920’s stories of captured children and bloodshed marked the escalating violence in the remote mountains, culminating in a sensational murder and kidnapping in 1927. Who were these reclusive Apaches? In 1930 anthropologist Grenville Goodwin headed south to find out. Accompanying him were guides who had often encountered the Apaches, and as Goodwin searched out abandoned campsites, the Apaches were quite likely watching his group.

Grenville Goodwin’s journals chronicling his epic search have been edited and annotated by his son Neil, who was born three months before his father’s tragic death in 1940. Neil Goodwin uses the journals to engage in a dialogue with the father he never knew. Retracing his father’s journeys, picking up the old, cold trail, Neil juxtaposes his own journal entries with the older ones, creating a moment of conversation and common ground between father and son while solving some enduring mysteries.

Grenville Goodwin (1907 – 1940) was a well-known and respected ethnographer of the Apaches. He was the author of The Social Organization of the Western Apache; Myths and Tales of the White Mountain Apache, Western Apache Raiding and Warfare.


“With steadily gathering force, the amazing story unfolds of two exceptional men, father and son, each on his own quest. And always one feels the haunting presence of the Apache, their world and their mysteries”. –David McCullough

“A son’s longing determination to know his enigmatic father, and the brutal war waged upon a small, resourceful band of Apache, are the stuff of a terrific read that at times left me breathless with sorrow.”–Louise Erdrich.

“The Apache Diaries is about seeking. It is about our boundless urge to bring our lives full circle, gathering them into a meaningful whole. It is about Apaches, but so is it about each of us. Not since Theodora Kroeber penned Ishi has there been another book like this.”–Bernard L. Fontana.

“A son’s search for his father and the father’s search, fifty years earlier, for the mysterious Sierra Madre Apaches, come together in this profoundly moving story.”–H. Henrietta Stockel, author of Women of the Apache Nation: Voices of Truth.

“An absorbing and informative account of an unexplored chapter in Chiricahua Apache history.”–Keith N. Basso.

Les Guerriers Silencieux - Journaux Apaches

Les Guerriers Silencieux: Journaux Apaches

Les Guerriers Silencieux: Journaux Apaches

Les Guerriers Silencieux – Journaux Apaches

En 1927, la rumeur enfle. N’y tenant plus, l’ehtnohistorien Grenville Goodwin qui travaille dans la réserve de Fort Apache, se lance à la recherche des derniers Apaches libres. Il descend alors plus au sud, dans les inextricables sierras situées au nord du Mexique. De ces années passées à sillonner les espaces sauvages il en fera un journal.
Dès les années 1970, son fils Neil, se lance à son tour sur les pistes de l’Arizona et des sierras mexicaines. Il découvrira que des Apaches, descendants directs des bandes de Cochise et Geronimo, ont survécu jusqu’à l’aube des années 1980. Il en fait un autre journal.
NEIl GOODwIN n’a jamais connu son père décédé en 1940. Dans les années 1970, une découverte va changer sa vie. Il trouve dans le grenier de la maison familiale de Nouvelle-Angleterre ce fameux journal dont la lecture l’intrigue, l’obsède. Si aller là où s’est rendu son père est un moyen inattendu de mieux connaître l’auteur de ses jours, il y a dans le Journal paternel quelque chose qui attire, c’est comme une quête du Graal : trouver les traces, les preuves que des Apaches chiricahuas libres ont survécu, presque à l’état sauvage et en toute autonomie, jusque dans les années 1940 voire plus. À travers cette quête, journal de son père en main, Neil retrouve des endroits où ce dernier a séjourné, rencontre des témoins âgés qui se souviennent de lui. le livre installe alors un dialogue entre les deux hommes avec pour fil d’Ariane le désert, les montagnes et les Apaches. D’un journal à l’autre père et fils font écho à une histoire demeurée jusqu’alors méconnue sauf par quelques rares personnes dans les réserves apaches et de vieilles familles paysannes américaines et mexicaines. Si ces journaux croisés dans le temps, à plus de soixante-dix ans d’écart, sont pour nous une révélation, ils le deviennent aussi pour Neil Goodwin. En effet, prolongeant la quête de son père, il acquiert la certitude de la présence d’Apaches libres dans les sierras nord-mexicaines jusqu’à la fin des années 1970. Autant hallucinant que réel, les deux journaux nous plongent dans cette aventure à peine croyable où plane l’ombre des Chiricahuas, derniers guerriers insaisissables, silencieux, maraudant comme des fantômes dans les grands espaces où jadis ils régnaient en maîtres Avec Goodwin père et fils, l’histoire semble s’être arrêtée dans les montagnes, les sierras et sur les plaines du désert. À l’aube du xxIe siècle, les derniers témoins parlent ; en dehors des réserves, des Apaches libres sont peut-être toujours là, silencieux.
Neil GoodwiN vit à Boston. il est notamment l’auteur et le producteur de films documentaires dont Geronimo and the Apache Resistance (1988). Grenville Goodwin (1907-1940) est le célèbre anthropologue américain auteur de travaux majeurs sur les Apaches.