In every settled society, there are men slow to words and action, men whose real capacities are not evident to themselves or to those around them. Yet when that society is threatened by disaster or challenged by change, such men, gifted with common sense, a feeling for fair play, and the willingness to take counsel with others before making the necessary decisions, may become the new leaders of the society. Such a man is Lije Evans. Beginning his journey to Oregon with no very high opinion of himself, he finds himself speaking for the right and the sensible, defending the camp dogs against the malicious, and insisting that the train delay when a man sickens with camp fever. After his election as the new wagon-train leader, he has to prove himself to himself; he arrives in Oregon as a leader of society and a builder of the nation.
The first leader of the wagon train, Irvine Tadlock, is the kind of loud-mouthed, selfish, ambitious man, followed by hirelings, who is familiar to readers of Western novels. The antithesis of Tadlock is the former mountain man Dick Summers, wise, experienced, and brave but not foolish. Having just lost his wife when the novel begins, Summers willingly signs on as pilot for the wagon train, and he is conscientious and effective. His world, however, is that of the wilderness, and he is more at home in his memories of Indian squaws and solitary campfires than in the world of the settlers.
Brownie Evans and Mercy McBee,...
(The entire section is 568 words.)