America’s Patriotic Trails, by John Thompson
A nation of restless wanderers tends to follow along some trails, and it is little surprise that there are recognized historical trails to honor those travelers in American history. In reading this book, I was pleased to see that I have at least some experience in reading about and traveling along at least some of these trails . In reading this book I was pleased to note that the author of the book included some beautiful photos, although there are plenty of readers who will be either particularly pleased or particularly bothered by the historical revisionism that shows a lot of liberal white guilt about the travel of settlers across the United States and the dispossession of indigenous tribes. While commemoration is not necessarily celebration, it seems rather churlish to be in possession of what was bought and “obtained” by our ancestors without celebrating it. While not everything that happened in the past is praiseworthy, settlement nations like our own are based on massive population transfers and those that do not have the strength to resist the tide of demography have little reason to complain about the loss of their lands–the first law given by God to mankind was to be fruitful and multiply, after all.
This book consists of two hundred pages of text and photos/maps that cover the twelve more established historic trails in the United States (lamentably, the Camino Real from Santa Fe to El Paso and the Ala Kahakai in Hawaii were not included). The trails are organized chronologically from the period of time when the trails were used. Beginning with the Juan Bautista De Anza Trail in the American Southwest, we then move to the Overmountain Victory Trail that led backwoods soldiers to King’s Mountain and Cowpens to help secure victory in the American Revolution. Most of the trails cover historical movements of people in the 1800’s, from the Sante Fe Trail and its focus on trade to the Trail of Tears of the Cherokee from their homelands to Oklahoma to the Oregon, California, and Mormon pioneer trails with their massive population shifts, to the bravery and chutzvah of the short-lived Pony Express Trail to the tragedy of the Nez Perce trail that ends just a few dozen miles from the border of Canada. A couple of later trails, namely the rugged Iditarod Trail in Alaska and the Selma to Montgomery Trail in Alabama, round out 20th century historical trails. Each of the stories includes, as much as possible a good deal of pathos about the difficulties faced by people as well as the way these trails are remembered in contemporary times through historical markers, museums, and reenactment.
Whether or not you appreciate this book will depend on a variety of factors. Do you like your history colored with lots of maudlin tales of death and suffering and loss? Are you sympathetic about the plight of Southern blacks complaining about racism or indigenous peoples acting in violence at the threat of loss to their lands? Do you like beautiful and colorful pictures and have an interest in off-roading and the land ownership of the historical trails that have been designated? Are you interested in historical re-enactment? The more these things are true, the more you will likely enjoy the perspective of this book and what it has to offer. However, if you do not particularly care who owns the land along which a trail runs and have little sympathy for the losers of history, this book will likely strike you as an example of historical revisionism and liberal white guilt that can get a bit intolerable at times. As is often the case, what you get out of this book depends on what you bring to it.
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