The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman
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" to this aim. In fact, Parkman's whole journey seems full of misadventures, which he describes with dry good humor and a charming ability to laugh at himself.
The series of minor disasters makes The Oregon Trail entertaining, 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, and brings the thrill of the hunt to life in vivid detail.
Parkman has a boundless fascination for all he sees, and seems to fall in love with the prairie itself over the course of the book. He transforms this enthusiasm into his descriptions, which often verge on the poetic.
Unlike many explorers of the West, Parkman is not hardedged, and while he is accurate, he is also somewhat romantic. This book is not saturated with the violence that characterizes much literature of this genre. His portraits of native people, while not always flattering, seem good-spirited.
This is not a scientific or anthropological treatise, but Parkman has a passion for these subjects which, coupled with his unique adventures, makes this a very appealing narrative.