The California Trail: An Epic with Many Heroesby George R. Stewart
In 1841 and 1842 small groups of emigrants tried to discover a route to California passable by wagons. Without reliable maps or guides, they pushed ahead, retreated, detoured, split up, and regrouped, reaching their destination only at great cost of property and life. But they had found a trail, or cleared one, and by their mistakes had shown others how to take
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This book is a great description of the trail to California and the people traveling on it in the 1840s and 1850s. The author has an eye both for the larger historical context and for individual persons and details. Putting the book down was like saying goodbye to an old friend. I also heartily recommend "The Earth Abides" by the same author.