Westward Vision: The Story of the Oregon Trail

Westward Vision: The Story of the Oregon Trail

Westward Vision: The Story of the Oregon Trail

Westward Vision: The Story of the Oregon Trail


"In one very real sense," David Lavender writes, "the story of the Oregon Trail begins with Columbus." This opening suggests the panoramic sweep of his history of that famous trail. In chiseled, colorful prose, Lavender illustrates the "westward vision" that impelled the early explorers of the American interior looking for a northwest passage and send fur trappers into the region charted by Lewis and Clark. For the emigrants following the trappers' routes, that vision gradually grew into a sense of a manifest American destiny. Lavender describes the efforts of emigration societies, of missionaries like Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, and of early pioneer settlers like Hall Jackson Kelley, Jason Lee, and Thomas Jefferson Farnham, as well as the routes they took to the "Promised Land." He concludes by recounting the first large-scale emigrations of 1843–45, which steeled the U. S. government for war with Mexico and agreements with Britain over the Oregon boundary.


Go west, young man, and grow up with the country. But, in the absence of such allures as gold, where in the West?

On leaving home behind, most of the restless migrants in the colonies and, afterward, in the young republic simply traveled a few score miles into an adjacent territory and settled there. By contrast, the Oregon pioneers decided, almost overnight it seemed, to cross two thousand miles of plains and mountains inhabited by potentially hostile Indians and seek out living space in an area dominated by representatives of a foreign power with which their nation had already fought two wars.


Several studies have sought to explain America's westward expansion by examining the characteristics of the movers them selves, and of course it was within each person's private self that the decisions were made. Still, the lure of destination, the "sense of place," that unshackled those private motives and put the wheels to rolling is also worth attention. That will be the burden of this book.

What's in a Name?

First, of course, was curiosity. What marvels lay hidden in the interior of North America? What riches? How many miles sepa rated the Atlantic from the Pacific? Were there waterways -- Northwest Passages -- through or around the continent that would shrink traveling time to the lucrative commerce of Asia?

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