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The Oregon Trail: sketches of prairie and Rocky-Mountain life
by Francis Parkman
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From Library Journal
In 1846, a young man of privilege left his comfortable Boston home to embark on a strenuous overland journey to the untamed West. This timeless account of Parkman's travels and travails provides an expressive portrait of the rough frontiersmen, immigrants, and Native Americans he encounters, set against the splendor of the unspoiled wilderness. While Parkman's patrician air and unabashed racism sometimes jolt the modern reader, this remains a colorful classic by one of the 19th century's most prominent narrative historians. A circumspect abridgment and a laudable interpretation by veteran narrator Frank Muller enrich this audio version. Highly recommended.?Linda Bredengerd, Hanley Lib., Univ. of Pittsburgh, Bradford, Pa.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Francis Parkman's eyewitness account of his 1846 trek across the early West established him as an important historian and chronicler of soon-lost societies and traditions. Frank Muller's narration of this well-crafted abridgment is masterful. Parkman wrote with a fine sense of color and landscape. Muller brilliantly enhances these descriptions, adding his rich, expressive voice to Parkman's observations. Muller's cadence, sense of timing and emphasis are impeccable, and the narrative flows with the fascination of a novel. The text is a primary resource for American history studies, and the audio format makes a valuable contribution. R.F.W. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine
Historian Henry Steele Commager
"...Poetic eloquence and youthful excitement."
Booklist, May 1997
"Frank Muller lends excitement to Parkman's classic account of a westward trek, providing dramatically distinctive voices for the author's fellow wayfarers."
Hear an eye-witness account of one of the grandest adventures in American history. Francis Parkman's journal -- written more than 150 years ago, in 1846 -- captures the color, spirit, and perspective of a Harvard-educated Bostonian traveling in the Rocky Mountains and living among the Dakota Sioux. Parkman's classic narrative traces his 1,700-mile journey, peopled by the traders, woodsmen, trappers, gamblers and Native Americans he encountered. Frank Muller's outstanding reading draws the listener into the drama. Named a 1996 "Best Audio for Memoir/Autobiography" by Publishers Weekly. 4 cassettes.
The West as it was when The White Man first saw it; a vivid, personal account
From the Publisher
8 1.5-hour cassettes
About the Author
Frank Muller, a renowned reader of audio books and a stage and screen actor, lives in the Los Angeles area. He is "the first true superstar reader in the world of spoken world audio." (Library Journal)
Excerpted from The Oregon Trail: Adventures on the Prairie in the 1840's by Francis Parkman. Copyright © 2001. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Francis Parkman set out West from St. Louis in order to see the prairie for himself and "to observe the Indian character". Along the way he encountered some "unexpected impediments". In fact, Parkman's whole journey seems to be one long misadventure, which he describes with dry good humor and a charming ability to laugh at himself. The series of minor disasters makes The Oregon Trail a very amusing story, but it is also a valuable narrative of life on the prairie and has some wonderfully detailed descriptions of Indian villages and customs.
The author is clearly impressed with native sportsmanship:
"A shaggy buffalo bull bounded out from a neighboring hollow, and close behind him came a slender Indian boy, riding without stirrups or saddle, and lashing his eager little horse to full speed. Yard after yard he drew closer to his gigantic victim, though the bull, with his short tail erect and his tongue lolling out a foot from his foaming jaws, was straining his unwieldy strength to the utmost. A moment more, and the boy was close alongside. It was our friend the Hail-Storm. He dropped the rein on his horse's neck, and jerked an arrow like lightning from the quiver at his shoulder."
Parkman has a boundless fascination for all he sees, and he seems to fall in love with the prairie itself over the course of the book. He transfers this enthusiasm into his descriptions, which often verge on the poetic:
"Emerging from the mud-holes of Westport, we pursued our way for some time along the narrow track, in the checkered sunshine and shadow of the woods, till at length, issuing into the broad light, we left behind us the farthest outskirts of the great forest, that once spread from the western plains to the shore of the Atlantic. Looking over an intervening belt of bushes, we saw the green, ocean-like expanse of the prairie, stretching swell beyond swell to the horizon."
Unlike many other explorers of the West, Parkman lacks hard-edged cynicism, and while he is generally accurate, he is also somewhat romantic. The Oregon Trail is not saturated with the violence that characterizes much literature of this genre, and, while his analyses of the people are not always flattering, they seem good-spirited:
"Kettles were hung over the fires, around which the squaws were gathered with their children, laughing and talking merrily. A circle of a different kind...was composed of the old men and warriors of repute, who sat together with their white buffalo robes drawn close around their shoulders; and as the pipe passed from hand to hand, their conversation had not a particle of the gravity and reserve usually ascribed to Indians. I sat down with them as usual. I had in my hand half a dozen [fireworks], which I had made one day when encamped upon Laramie Creek, with gunpowder and charcoal, and the leaves of 'Fremont's Expedition,' rolled round a stout lead pencil. I waited till I could get hold of the large piece of burning bois de vache which the Indians kept by them on the ground for lighting their pipes. With this I lighted all the fireworks at once, and tossed them whizzing and sputtering into the air, over the heads of the company. They all jumped up and ran off with yelps of astonishment and consternation. After a moment or two, they ventured to come back one by one, and some of the boldest, picking up the cases of burnt paper, examined them with eager curiosity to discover their mysterious secret. From that time forward I enjoyed great repute as a 'fire medicine.'
The Oregon Trail is not a scientific or anthropological treatise, but Parkman has a passion for these subjects that, coupled with his unique adventures, makes this a very appealing narrative.
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