The Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail

Keen observations and a graphic style characterize the author's remarkable record of a vanishing frontier. Detailed accounts of the hardships experienced while traveling across mountains and prairies; vibrant portraits of emigrants and Western wildlife; and vivid descriptions of Indian life and culture. A classic of American frontier literature.

Reviews of the The Oregon Trail

In my little book reviews Im always coming back to this idea of sympathetic imagination. When it comes to the exercise of sympathetic imagination in reading, it helps when the prose is pleasant and the story a good one. Parkman explains that hes had a lifelong fascination with the Indians. Thats probably putting it too strongly, but the fact is that Parkmans sympathetic imagination utterly fails him. Im not going to suggest that he owes the beasts the same debt of sympathy he owes his fellow man, but his unrelenting campaign of bloodlust against the buffalo especially on the return trip gets hard to stomach.) Herman Melville, reviewing the book a couple years after its publication, gives Parkman a righteous chastisement for his lack of curiosity and fellow-feeling. However, as Melville says once hes put away the stick, Parkmans book is nonetheless successful, wonderfully so, full of fascinating observations of frontier and wilderness life, hilarious and pitiful anecdotes and vignettes, gritty character sketches and reportage. It becomes necessary for us to exercise our sympathetic imagination, as readers, for the benefit of Parkman, who so frequently fails to exercise his own for the benefit of his subjects.

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The author only traveled perhaps half of the trail and did not comment or even mention the iconic landmarks like Chimney Rock. The book shows the beginning of the destruction of the prairie and the beginning of the displacement if the Native American.

Parkman went on a 2,000 mile journey through the wilderness of the American West that would take him six months to reach the end of his trail, Fort Laramie. But it's not fiction, it is the historical recording 23-year-old Parkman, a recent Harvard College student, wrote during his journey from the East to the great American West. Parkman's book makes a great read for anyone who wants to escape the modern world and venture into the wagon trails of the Old West where danger and risk are an hourly part of life, and death.

He writes about the Indian tribes, but also of the fellow travelers of the trail, the occasional soldiers, the French trappers turned trail leaders that manage to keep his group mostly alive, the bad guys and the good, buffalo, and quicksand. On reflection, there were so many ways Parkman and his fellow travelers narrowly escaped death that it is a wonder they returned.

The title of this narrative is somewhat ambiguous as in the authors own words the primary goal of this account is to relay the life and customs of the plains Indians. The amazingly descriptive accounts paint a vivid picture of proud Indian tribes at the zenith of their evolution.

For this nebulous book about roads I'm working on, I picked up American historian Francis Parkman's The Oregon Trail this week. 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.

Little of his horticultural interests emerge in this book and his profound disdain for Indian lifestyles is prevalent. It is interesting that critics as early as Hermann Melville critiqued this book, Melville saying that the title was misleading, as Parkman never travels into the Rocky Mountains but comes down the Front Range.

  • English

  • History

  • Rating: 3.70
  • Pages: 400
  • Publish Date: November 15th 2002 by Dover Publications
  • Isbn10: 0486424804
  • Isbn13: 9780486424804