The California and Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky Mountain Life
The California and Oregon Trail is Parkman’s thrilling account of a summer spent journeying from St. Louis through the Great Plains and Black Hills to the Rockies. Traveling with his guide, Henry Chatillon, Parkman comes to revere the French trappers and voyageurs who had originally opened the country while mastering an essential art of frontier survival—hunting buffalo.
Though plagued by a mysterious illness since childhood that left him weak and blind for long periods of time, Parkman was the picture of perseverance, eagerly covering vast stretches of the Great Plains with a roving band of Sioux for days on end. He returned home exhausted—almost entirely blind—and was forced to dictate the entire account, lending the book its breezy, conversational style.
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among the rocks and trees. His face was turned upward, and his eyes seemed riveted on a pine-tree springing from a cleft in the precipice above. The crest of the pine was swaying to and fro in the wind, and its long limbs waved slowly up and down, as if the tree had life. Looking for a while at the old man, I was satisfied that he was engaged in an act of worship, or prayer, or communion of some kind with a supernatural being. I longed to penetrate his thoughts, but I could do nothing more than
volunteers, who gained this victory, passed up with the main army; but Price’s soldiers whom we now met, were men from the same neighborhood, precisely similar in character, manners and appearance. One forenoon, as we were descending upon a very wide meadow, where we meant to rest for an hour or two, we saw a dark body of horsemen approaching at a distance. In order to find water, we were obliged to turn aside to the river bank, a full half mile from the trail. Here we put up a kind of awning,
and a sense of propriety which always led him to pay great attention to his personal appearance. His tall athletic figure with its easy flexible motions appeared to advantage in his present dress; and his fine face, though roughened by a thousand storms, was not at all out of keeping with it. We took leave of him with much regret; and unless his changing features, as he shook us by the hand, belied him, the feeling on his part was no less than on ours.* Shaw had given him a horse at Westport. My
from St. Louis, were lounging about the building. In a little log stable close at hand were their horses and mules, selected by the captain, who was an excellent judge. The alliance entered into, we left them to complete their arrangements, while we pushed our own to all convenient speed. The emigrants for whom our friends professed such contempt, were encamped on the prairie about eight or ten miles distant, to the number of a thousand or more, and new parties were constantly passing out from
square and strong proportions. In appearance he was particularly dingy; for his old buckskin frock was black and polished with time and grease, and his belt, knife, pouch and powder-horn appeared to have seen the roughest service. The first joint of each foot was entirely gone, having been frozen off several winters before, and his moccasons were curtailed in proportion. His whole appearance and equipment bespoke the ‘free trapper.’ He had a round ruddy face, animated with a spirit of