The Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail

3.1 38
by Francis Parkman

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On April 28, 1846, Francis Parkman left Saint Louis on his first expedition west. The Oregon Trail documents his adventures in the wilderness, sheds light on America's westward expansion, and celebrates the American spirit.See more details below


On April 28, 1846, Francis Parkman left Saint Louis on his first expedition west. The Oregon Trail documents his adventures in the wilderness, sheds light on America's westward expansion, and celebrates the American spirit.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In 1846, a young man of privilege left his comfortable Boston home to embark on a strenuous overland journey to the untamed West. This timeless account of Parkman's travels and travails provides an expressive portrait of the rough frontiersmen, immigrants, and Native Americans he encounters, set against the splendor of the unspoiled wilderness. While Parkman's patrician air and unabashed racism sometimes jolt the modern reader, this remains a colorful classic by one of the 19th century's most prominent narrative historians. A circumspect abridgment and a laudable interpretation by veteran narrator Frank Muller enrich this audio version. Highly recommended.Linda Bredengerd, Hanley Lib., Univ. of Pittsburgh, Bradford, Pa.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Penguin American Library Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.03(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.04(d)
1190L (what's this?)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Francis Parkman set out West from St. Louis in order to see the prairie for himself and "to observe the Indian character". Along the way he encountered some "unexpected impediments". In fact, Parkman's whole journey seems to be one long misadventure, which he describes with dry good humor and a charming ability to laugh at himself. The series of minor disasters makes The Oregon Trail a very amusing story, but it is also a valuable narrative of life on the prairie and has some wonderfully detailed descriptions of Indian villages and customs.

The author is clearly impressed with native sportsmanship:

"A shaggy buffalo bull bounded out from a neighboring hollow, and close behind him came a slender Indian boy, riding without stirrups or saddle, and lashing his eager little horse to full speed. Yard after yard he drew closer to his gigantic victim, though the bull, with his short tail erect and his tongue lolling out a foot from his foaming jaws, was straining his unwieldy strength to the utmost. A moment more, and the boy was close alongside. It was our friend the Hail-Storm. He dropped the rein on his horse's neck, and jerked an arrow like lightning from the quiver at his shoulder."

Parkman has a boundless fascination for all he sees, and he seems to fall in love with the prairie itself over the course of the book. He transfers this enthusiasm into his descriptions, which often verge on the poetic:

"Emerging from the mud-holes of Westport, we pursued our way for some time along the narrow track, in the checkered sunshine and shadow of the woods, till at length, issuing into the broad light, we left behind us the farthest outskirts of the great forest, that once spread from the western plains to the shore of the Atlantic. Looking over an intervening belt of bushes, we saw the green, ocean-like expanse of the prairie, stretching swell beyond swell to the horizon."

Unlike many other explorers of the West, Parkman lacks hard-edged cynicism, and while he is generally accurate, he is also somewhat romantic. The Oregon Trail is not saturated with the violence that characterizes much literature of this genre, and, while his analyses of the people are not always flattering, they seem good-spirited:

"Kettles were hung over the fires, around which the squaws were gathered with their children, laughing and talking merrily. A circle of a different kind...was composed of the old men and warriors of repute, who sat together with their white buffalo robes drawn close around their shoulders; and as the pipe passed from hand to hand, their conversation had not a particle of the gravity and reserve usually ascribed to Indians. I sat down with them as usual. I had in my hand half a dozen [fireworks], which I had made one day when encamped upon Laramie Creek, with gunpowder and charcoal, and the leaves of 'Fremont's Expedition,' rolled round a stout lead pencil. I waited till I could get hold of the large piece of burning bois de vache which the Indians kept by them on the ground for lighting their pipes. With this I lighted all the fireworks at once, and tossed them whizzing and sputtering into the air, over the heads of the company. They all jumped up and ran off with yelps of astonishment and consternation. After a moment or two, they ventured to come back one by one, and some of the boldest, picking up the cases of burnt paper, examined them with eager curiosity to discover their mysterious secret. From that time forward I enjoyed great repute as a 'fire medicine.'

The Oregon Trail is not a scientific or anthropological treatise, but Parkman has a passion for these subjects that, coupled with his unique adventures, makes this a very appealing narrative.

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What People are saying about this

Robert L. Gale
The Oregon Trail, edited [by] Seltskog…is the most authoritative text, based on scholarly collation of all editions published in Parkman's lifetime and containing an excellent critical and analytical introduction, textual and factual notes, Frederic Remington's illustrations and maps. This splendid edition is essential to an understanding of the Oregon Trail.
—(Robert L. Gale, Francis Parkman)
Bernard DeVoto
I owe a great deal to an appallingly large number of historians but I am glad to name those from whom I have taken most or on whom I have principally relied: foremost and always Parkman.
—(Bernard DeVoto, The Course of Empire)
Henry Steele Commager
It was his own fortitude and perseverance—perseverance under the most grievous physical affliction—that made it possible for Parkman to see as much as the West as he did, to experience at first hand the life of the explorer and the trapper and hunter and even of the Indian. And it was his arduous preparation, his intellectual curiosity, his talent for observation, his enthusiasm, his gift for dramatic narrative that enabled him to reconstruct from his fragmentary Journals what he had seen and to convey it with such useful exuberance to generations of readers….It is this picturesqueness, this racy vigor, this poetic eloquence, this unconquerably useful quality which gave The Oregon Trail its perennial charm, recreating for us, as perhaps no other book in our literature, the wonder and beauty and intensity of life in a new world that is now old and but a memory.

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