Overland in 1846: Diaries and Letters of the California-Oregon Trail - Vol. 1

Overland in 1846: Diaries and Letters of the California-Oregon Trail - Vol. 1

Overland in 1846: Diaries and Letters of the California-Oregon Trail - Vol. 1

Overland in 1846: Diaries and Letters of the California-Oregon Trail - Vol. 1

Synopsis

"We pray the God of mercy to deliver us from our present Calamity," wrote Patrick Breen on the first day of 1847 as he and others in the Donner party awaited rescue from the snowbound Sierras. His famous diary appears in Overland in 1846, edited and annotated by Dale L. Morgan. This handsome two-volume work includes not only primary sources of the Donner tragedy but also the letters and journals of other emigrants on the trail that year. Their voices combine to create a sweeping narrative of the westward movement. Volume I concentrates on the experiences of particular pioneers making the passage- their letters and diaries describe omnipresent dangers and momentary joys, landmarks, Indians encountered, disputes within the companies, births and deaths. Volume II, also based on contemporary records, offers a broader but no less vivid view of what it was like to go west in 1846 and pictures what was found in California and Oregon.

Excerpt

The year 1846 is one of the most remarkable in the varied annals of overland emigration across the American West, characterized by comedy, tragedy, high adventure, achievement, and frustration as are few others in our history. Bernard DeVoto saw it as The Year of Decision, and under that title published a modern classic, a book which should be read by all interested in the West or our unfolding destiny as a continental nation. His purpose, he said, was to tell the story of some people who went West in 1846, and "to tell that story in such a way that the reader may realize the far western frontier experience, which is part of our cultural inheritance, as personal experience." the year 1846, DeVoto thought, "best dramatizes personal experience as national experience. Most of our characters are ordinary people, the unremarkable commoners of the young democracy." Their story nevertheless was "a decisive part of a decisive turn in the history of the United States," when for the American people the future crystallized out of the inchoate. the expansion of the United States to the Pacific, the emergence of a continental nation, in DeVoto's view may have made the Civil War inevitable, but also determined the outcome: "The past was not going to win the appeal to arms, the continental nation was not going to be Balkanized, it was going to remain an empire and dominate the future."

The Year of Decision, 1846, to repeat, is a masterpiece, and the two volumes which comprise the present work are in no sense designed to take its place. We are not here concerned with the broader history of 1846. the settlement of the Oregon question, the war with Mexico, the military campaigns on the Rio Grande, into the South-

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