Book Review: The Overland Migrations

The Overland Migrations, by the National Park Service

One of the most fascinating aspects of this particular book is that although this is a very excellent little book on the overland migrations between Missouri and the west starting in the 1940’s, and has a lot to say about the making of the Oregon Trail and related trails as well as the points of interest along them, the book mentions nothing about the Oregon Trail museum that exists in Eastern Oregon.  Now, it is possible that the museum was finished after this book was printed, but all the same it is interesting how this book sought to encourage interest in the journeys that were made by many people to settle the west, with a focus on those who settled Oregon and California as well as Utah, with a great deal of similarities as well as differences in what they found and the results of those journeys.  The overland migrations are one of several of the massive outbursts of American migration that have had a large effect on the lives of Americans and on the fate of the nation itself, making America a continental power to be reckoned with and proving fateful for the people who were caught up in the middle of that travel.

This book is a small one but it is certainly well organized and certainly well-crafted one at a bit more than 100 pages, divided into three parts.  The first part of the book explores the route of the pioneers, focusing on those who made the first trips to Oregon that established a firm American claim on the southern part of Oregon country that would later become the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, despite the British presence at Ft. Vancouver on the north side of the Columbia River and the center of no mean city in its own right at present.  After this comes an essay about the overland migrations that discusses the historical and geographical aspects of the travels, including the Oregon fever that started in about 1840, the preparation of the first travelers, their start and travel, the dangerous road to California, the Mormon way to Utah, and the gold fever as well as the final years before the trains made the overland travel by wagon much more rare, closed by some suggestions for further reading.  The third part of the book then provides a guide to the overland trails by looking at some of the more notable places to visit along the way, after which there is an index.

It is interesting to ponder how people find out about the overland migration and what shapes their understanding of the movement of people in search of a better life and land of their own that leads them to cross half a continent of wilderness [1].  As a child, like many others of my generation, I spent many hours playing Oregon Trail and engaging in activities like deciding how many oxen to bring with me, hunting to supplement the food in my larder, choosing what days to rest and stewarding resources to make it to the Willamette Valley victorious, and dealing with the alarmingly high risk that one would die of snakebite or dysentery along the way.  At any rate, this book does remind one of that game, and in a good way, with a discussion of the notable places that one sees along the way and the struggles of ordinary people to cross the wilderness and settle a new land, where their presence would signal the spread of American influence and settlement to areas that had previously been explored only by trappers and traders and the occasional explorers and guides and missionaries, those unusual harbingers of empire.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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