A book released May 1, 1991 by Francis Parkman< read all 1 reviews
For a book about roads I'm working on, I picked up American historian Francis Parkman's The Oregon Trail this week. Myexperience this summer in what was the Oregon Territory started me thinking about the routes that settlers took going West, and I wanted to refresh my memory.
Whoops! To my surprise I found that I'd not read Parkman's book, although it has been sitting on my shelf for probably 20 years. The historian was in his 20s when he set out with a friend in 1846 to travel across the continent. He didn't make it to the Pacific, but his account of his travels has all the exciting immediacy of the very best travel writing, as well as the weight of an historical document.
His health, never all that good, was ruined on the trip. Nevertheless, despite the fact his illness several times rendered him blind so that he had to have documents read to him, he went on to write a series of about New France and its relations with the British that have no peer in English--and some would say, not in French either.
Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851)
The Pioneers of France in the New World (1865)
The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century (1867)
La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West (1869)
The Old Régime in Canada (1874)
Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV (1877)
Montcalm and Wolfe (1884)
A Half Century of Conflict (1892)
But The Oregon Trail is in a different register. There are moment when I gnashed my teeth about his snobbism, but I was found myself being carried away just as I was by Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle journals, and Bruce Chatwin's quite different but similarly thought-provoking The Songlines. Great reading when Fall begins to settle down around us, but wanderlust persists.
The book is available in several editions, and also as an e-book at Project Gutenberg. The photo is of tracks left by wagon trains in Wyoming.
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