Many detailed and carefully developed historical travel accounts can provide interesting insights and give a comprehensive picture of life in the described regions. Francis Parkman’s book, titled The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life, initially published in 1849, depicts his tour, conducted in 1946, to the states of the American West, such as Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas. The depictions include both nature and people the author saw during his travel.
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From the first chapter, titled “The Frontier”, the book invites the reader to witness the wild beauty and the dangers of the region. One of the first impactful descriptions is the boat travel on the Missouri River, which creates the impression of powerful, uncontrollable nature by depicting how the boat struggled with “the rapid current” of the river, which was constantly changing its course (Parkman, 1912, p. 4-5).
The dangers encountered by Parkman and some of his companions also included “a tremendous thunderstorm” (Parkman, 1912, p. 10). The author claims that he had never seen such “a stunning” thunder indicating not only fear but also adoration (Parkman, 1912, p. 11). He emphasizes his appreciation of the wild nature of the region also earlier in the chapter describing “rich and luxuriant woods” “lighted by the bright sunshine and enlivened by a multitude of birds” (Parkman, 1912, p. 6). Parker’s carefully-worded descriptions make these pictures clearly appear in front of the reader’s eyes.
However, it is not only nature that catches the author’s attention. He also dedicates some of his writing to local people, travelers, and emigrants, depicting their manners, clothes, and attitudes leaving interesting sociological and even psychological accounts. Parkman multiple times describes emigrants from different parts of the country who traveled to Oregon and California. He discusses their reasons for moving and notes that there were different people among them, from “sober-looking countrymen” to “the vilest outcasts in the country” (Parkman, 1912, p. 9). He also draws portraits of his fellow travelers, including Captain C. of the British Army and his brother.
While the first chapter of The Oregon Trail only briefly introduces to the reader the wild, untamed, yet beautiful and mesmerizing nature of the American West, it is enough to make them interested in reading more about it. However, Parkman’s psychological and sociological accounts are not less vivid and interesting. His book can both provide some valuable information to historians and entertain a regular reader.
Parkman, F. (1912). The Oregon Trail: Sketches of prairie and rocky-mountain life. Macmillan.