Wagons West (Magill Book Reviews)
The familiar tableaux of hardy pioneers traversing the continent in covered wagons, enduring dangers and hardships in their journey to the promising lands of the American West, has become so ingrained in the national conscience that it can be difficult to imagine a time when this ordeal was a new and unfamiliar undertaking. These early years of emigration westward, roughly 1840 to 1849, are the focus of this engrossing chronicle by Frank McLynn, Visiting Professor of Literature at Strathclyde University, Scotland. His British perspective breathes refreshing life into these tales of the risk-takers who, especially in these early years between the prominence of the so-called mountain men and the California Gold Rush, were truly journeying into a foreign land fraught with countless unknown perils.
In these early years, the trek was considered by many to be impossible, a venture only for the foolhardy. With well-chosen excerpts from diaries and primary sources, McLynn vividly portrays the sense of restlessness and striving for a better life which motivated the early pioneers, and tellingly contrasts this with the European peasant farmer, who looked upon land as a lifetime investment and was less likely to migrate.
The Overland Trails, which eventually became well traveled and worn with ruts from countless wagon trains, were less defined in these early years, and the best routes were often a matter of opinion and controversy. Clearly there was a...
(The entire section is 388 words.)
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