Selections from "The Oregon Trail" On April 28, 1846, Francis Parkman, who had already decided that he would write a history of the settling of America, and Quincy Adams Shaw, his cousin and good friend, embarked from St. Louis up the Missouri River for a “tour of curiosity and amusement to the Rocky Mountains.”
They were accompanied by Henry Chatillon, a hunter and guide, and Deslauriers, a muleteer. The little band traveled some seventeen hundred miles, meeting trappers, gamblers, woodsmen, soldiers, emigrant pioneers, and Indians, and Parkman eventually spent three weeks hunting buffalo with a band of Oglala Sioux.
The following year Parkman published his account of this experience on the frontier before the West was settled and the government’s removal policies endangered the way of life of the Plains Indians.
First serialized in twenty-one installments in Knickerbocker’s Magazine (1847–1849), 'The Oregon Trail' became one of the best-selling personal narratives of the nineteenth century, one man’s exploration of the American wilderness. Herman Melville acclaimed its “true wild-game flavor” while deploring its portrayal of Native Americans, which was counter to the “noble savage” view then in vogue.
Today 'The Oregon Trail' remains one of the great books ever produced by an American.
These selections from 'The Oregon Trail' is published by Now and Then Reader, Digital Publisher of Serious Nonfiction.
Francis Parkman (1823–1893) was born in Boston to a distinguished Brahmin family. In an attempt to remedy his poor health as a boy, he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother on three thousand acres of wilderness near Medford, Massachusetts, and there he developed a love of forests and some of the characteristic capabilities of the frontiersman. After graduating from Harvard College in 1845 he was persuaded to attend law school, but it did not sway him from his ambition to write a history of American forests. The publication of The Oregon Trail in 1847 was followed by more than a dozen works of history as well as the publication of his journals and letters. They established Parkman’s reputation as a great American historian.