An acclaimed historian’s “compellingly told” year-by-year account of the pioneering efforts to conquer the American West in the mid-nineteenth century (The Guardian).
In all the sagas of human migration, few can top the drama of the journey by Midwestern farmers to Oregon and California from 1840 to 1849—between the era of the fur trappers and the beginning of the gold rush. Even with mountain men as guides, these pioneers literally plunged into the unknown, braving all manner of danger, including hunger, thirst, disease, and drowning.
Employing numerous illustrations and extensive primary sources, including original diaries and memoirs, McLynn underscores the incredible heroism and dangerous folly on the overland trails. His authoritative narrative investigates the events leading up to the opening of the trails, the wagons and animals used, the roles of women, relations with Native Americans, and much else.
The climax arrives in McLynn’s expertly re-created tale of the dreadful Donner party, and he closes with Brigham Young and the Mormons beginning communities of their own. Full of high drama, tragedy, and triumph, “rarely has a book so wonderfully brought to life the riveting tales of Americans’ trek to the Pacific” (Publishers Weekly).
Rarely has a book so wonderfully brought to life the riveting tales of Americans' trek to the Pacific. A prolific British writer taken by the complex aspirations and often desperate hardships of the saints and scoundrels who filled the Western trails, McLynn (Carl Gustav Jung; Napoleon) relates their travails with a brio and understanding too seldom encountered in books on this naturally compelling subject. He vividly paints the unforgiving geography and the obstacles of human nature that often daunted but rarely defeated these pioneers. And he overlooks few of the people. There are plenty of familiar characters here, their stories freshly told: the ill-fated Donner Party, the Whitmans on their way to Oregon, mountain man Jim Bridger, the historian Francis Parkman and the Mormons. What helps make this narrative distinctive is that McLynn doesn't limit himself to known pioneers. His pen captures characters and situations from almost every wagon train that crossed the continent in seven or so pivotal years (1841 1847). Women play a large role in his pages. The outsider's perspective that allows McLynn to offer shrewd comparisons between European and American conditions does make one wish for more analysis. Most of all, though, he leaves the reader with a fuller understanding of the grit and resolve that motivated waves of people seeking escape and opportunity to head West and make the United States a continental nation in fact as well as in name. 16 pages of b&w illus.; maps.