The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

Oregon Trail

Please don’t laugh at me, but The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck is currently my favorite book. It’s hard to explain, but let me try. The book is hilarious while being thoughtful and packed full of history. There are scenes that are so hair-raising that I had to keep checking to make sure the author really made it to Oregon.

This work is a deeply moving and beautifully written memoir that tells the story of making a modern-day 2,500 mile trip with a mule driven covered wagon along the path of the Oregon Trail. While making his journey, Buck relates: the history of the Oregon Trail, Mormons in the West, and of mules, the pitfalls of wagon purchasing from the Amish, the kindness of strangers in the American West, and why so many children are being raised by their grandparents in Nebraska. More than this, it is Rinker Buck’s description of his complicated and unresolved relationship with his driven father that serves as the emotional trail-heart of this book. I loved every page. This book is a great way to “see America slowly.”

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I recently drove the Oregon Trail (quickly!) while travelling from Washington State to Idaho and back. I snapped this photo of what you typically see while driving the old Oregon Trail these days: two straight lanes of highway dotted with semi trucks and passenger cars. It’s a relatively easy drive these days, unless you encounter foul weather over the Blue Mountains. I especially love driving in Idaho where the posted speed is 80 miles per hour. While in Idaho, we were lucky enough to watch the largest non-motorized parade in the west. There were young girls riding bare back and without bridles, and countless old wagons and buggies pulled by mules, horses, and ponies. I’ll include my video of the twenty mule team pulling no less than five wagons here:

Here are some other interesting materials on the Oregon Trail that can be found at the library. They will surely round out your knowledge of that complex and colossal migration.

indexThe Oregon Trail: An American Saga by David Day is the definitive one-volume and complete history of the Oregon Trail from its earliest beginnings to the present. It’s chock full of maps, photographs, diary excerpts and illustrations that give a very detailed picture of this American saga. As the book blurb says: “Above all, The Oregon Trail offers a panoramic look at the romance, colorful stories, hardships, and joys of the pioneers who made up this tremendous and historic migration.”

For an original recording made in Portland, Oregon in May of 1941 by Woody Guthrie, be sure to check out the Columbia River Collection. Guthrie was hired by the Bonneville Power administration to write music for a film about power and the Columbia River. Songs include: The Oregon Trail, Roll on Columbia, and Hard Travelin’. We unfortunately don’t have a photo of this CD in our library catalog, but the music is fantastic.

index (3)If you want to eat like the early pioneers, Wagon Wheel Kitchens: Food on the Oregon Trail by Jacqueline Williams is the book for you! This book puts you squarely on the Oregon Trail: baking bread in a Dutch oven over a campfire, searing buffalo meat, and trading for fresh vegetables and fish. Through emigrant diaries and recipes of the day, the author reconstructs meals that fed the emigrants as they crossed the Plains. To understand the contribution of trail women to the migration, simply try one of Williams’s ‘pinch and a handful’ recipes – and do it over an open fire in a rainstorm.

index (1)The Oregon Trail: A Photographic Journey is by Bill & Jan Moeller. The authors meticulously traced and captured on film the remnants of the Oregon Trail-surprisingly intact in many places.The resulting full-color photographs, accompanied by selected entries from emigrant diaries, evoke for the modern reader the frontier: strange, harsh, and beautiful-as the emigrants saw it.

index (2)Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival by Peter Stark came highly recommended by a friend when he learned that I loved Buck’s Oregon Trail book. This story is simply a good adventure! It features a ship journey with threat of hostile boarding, wicked storms and the political ambition of Jefferson combined with the global trade scheme of Astor. It also features an overland journey with mountain passes, raging rivers, threat of native attack, and near starvation. In the end, the colony did change the trajectory of settlement on the west coast. It paved the way for the Oregon Trail, coming as it did just a few years after the Lewis and Clark expedition.

To travel the Oregon Trail from the comfort of your own home, come on down to the library and check out these wonderful materials! See you there.

2 thoughts on “The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

  1. Pingback: Best of 2015 Redux Pt. 1: Fiction and Nonfiction for Adults | A Reading Life

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