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Then-college student and later-eminent American historian Francis Parkman recounts his 1846 mid-collegiate “road trip” to the Colorado Rockies in The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life. Think On the Road, but well-written and set in the mid-1800s.
No wimp, even by 19th Century standards, Parkman was adept at bare-back riding, hunting, and living in the wilderness. His well-known marksmanship won Parkman the respect and admiration of hunters and trappers he encountered along the way.
Parkman suffered from a debilitating neurological illness, periodically blinding him and disabling him from walking. His disease was never effectively diagnosed, much less treated. His profound illness makes Parkman’s achievements, those documented in The Oregon Trail as well as his later career at Harvard, first as a horticulturalist, later as historian, even more impressive.
Parkman realized his childhood ambition to write a “history of the American forest” through his authoritative seven-volume France and England in North America (completed in 1892) and The Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851). In them, Parkman combined meticulously-researched history with writing of the highest literary order. The prestigious Francis Parkman Prize, annually awarded by the Society of American Historians for the best book in American history, promotes literary distinction in the writing of history.
We should not ask Parkman to be a 21st Century man. His attitudes were those of his time: he was convinced of the “Manifest Destiny” of the United States, as well as the superiority of white Protestant Christendom. We need to remember his generation and “class” freed the slaves, an accomplishment that eluded the generation of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison.
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What made the experience of listening to The Oregon Trail the most enjoyable?
I am interested in American History
Would you be willing to try another book from Francis Parkman? Why or why not?
Yes, Parkman brings a very 19th Century point of view.
Which scene was your favorite?
The buffalo hunting from horse back
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
Any additional comments?
This story is not about the Oregon Trail but about actually part of it. This book is about the Upper Great Plains and the Indians, trappers, guides and soldiers that passed though this area. This story give the reader a good feel of how life on the frontier was really like.