From Native Americans, to explorers, to fur trappers and traders, to missionaries, to pony express riders, to settlers, author David Dary paints a detailed picture of the history and legends that emerged along the rutted pathway that became known as the Oregon Trail. Many traveled the full distance of approximately 2,000 miles from Independence, Missouri, to the western shores of the Oregon Territory, while others left the trail for destinations in present-day Utah, California, or Nevada. Some of the travelers were in search of religious freedom, others gold, and others rich farmland. Through his exhaustive research of available journals and records, Dary provides interesting insights into the details of daily life along the Oregon Trail, including the hardships, deaths, defeats, and successes.
Since Dary reports such a vast number of facts with little explanation, commentary, or organization, The Oregon Trail: An American Saga gets rather dry in many places. His reporting method also leads to a number of mistakes, such as blaming the Ward Massacre on the Yakamas instead of the Shoshone-Bannock Indians. The interesting quotes from journals, as well as the pictures, illustrations, and appendices, help negate some of these adverse features. Dary includes history from the lives of many well-known adventurers who traveled the Oregon Trail, most notably John Jacob Astor, Marcus Whitman, John Fremont, Jim Bridger, and Brigham Young, as well as many lesser-known individuals, who braved the rigors of the Oregon Trail and were instrumental in helping carve out the development of the western United States.