Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

2,000 Miles, 3 Mules and a Covered Wagon

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

2,000 Miles, 3 Mules and a Covered Wagon

Article excerpt

Rinker Buck has written a part memoir, part adventure story in "The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey."

The adventure part is very good. Four years ago, Buck and a brother set out in a covered wagon from St. Joseph, Mo., on the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail. No trailing support vehicles, just the Bucks, three mules and a Jack Russell terrier. The last such crossing had been in 1909.

In stretches, the brothers faced challenges that approximated what the settlers had faced. How those early travelers made it is staggering to comprehend, particularly in an age where many consider a trip to the ATM a chore.

Buck is on target in describing the lush beauty of northeastern Kansas and southeastern Nebraska, and in finding harsher beauty in the drier land farther west.

He appears to have read nearly everything in print about the trail. One account in particular resonated with him.

It was written in 1846 by St. Louis newspaperman George Law Curry from eastern Kansas.

He wrote: "A man upon the horizon-bound prairie feels his own strength and estimates his own weakness. He is alive in everything around him."

Buck sporadically departs from the trail narrative to discuss his family history. And early in the book he explains his motives for heading west.

He had problems, both situational and chronic. His reporting job at The Hartford Courant had gone sour. So had his marriage. And he suffers from depression. To his credit, he doesn't elaborate on those issues.

He writes simply: "I escaped to live, I escaped to elude ennui and the boredom of everyday life."

Buck appears also to be seeking a reconnection with the spirit of his late father, Thomas Buck. The elder Buck, the publisher of Look magazine, in 1958 took then 7-year-old Rinker and an older brother on a covered wagon trip from their home in New Jersey into eastern Pennsylvania.

One senses in Buck's writing a longing for the closeness he felt with his father during that trip. With 11 children in the Buck family, attention was probably in short supply. …

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