The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life by Francis Parkman

Name: The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life | Artist: Francis Parkman Media: Book | Year(s): 1892
Francis Parkman | The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life | 1892 | Book | Rick and Murfy Stewart Collection

About the Work

In 1846, after graduating from Harvard, 23-year-old Bostonian Francis Parkman set out with his cousin on an expedition from St. Louis over the Oregon Trail to Fort Laramie, Wyoming. It was to be, in Parkman's words, "a tour of curiosity and amusement to the Rocky Mountains." From St. Louis, they traveled by steamer up the Missouri River to Westport, Missouri, and then rode northward to Fort Laramie, seven hundred miles away. Along the way, Parkman met traders, trappers, emigrants, and native peoples, and participated in a buffalo hunt led by the Oglala Sioux. He journeyed over two thousand miles, traveling through Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming, but did not cover the Trail in its entirety, missing the most difficult western portions. Parkman turned his journal into a series of sketches that were serialized in installments in Knickerbocker's Magazine and afterwards as a book, The California and Oregon Trail, Being Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life. His account remains one of the great personal histories of the frontier, though his ambivalence regarding native peoples reflects eastern sensibilities of his time, as demonstrated in this excerpt from Chapter 14, The Ogillallah (sic) Village: "With the stream of emigration to Oregon and California, the buffalo will dwindle away, and the large wandering communities who depend on them for support must be broken and scattered. The Indians will soon be corrupted by the example of the whites, abased by whiskey, and overawed by military posts; so that within a few years the traveler may pass in tolerable security through their country. Its danger and its charm will have disappeared together."

Frederic Remington illustrated the 1892 edition of Parkman's book. Prior to publication, the author wrote Remington, expressing his admiration of Remington's paintings. "They are as full of truth as they are of spirit, the work of one who knew the prairies and the mountains. You have no rival." Displayed here from Chapter 14 is the illustration The Thunder-Fighters Would Take Their Bows and Arrows, Their Guns, Their Magic Drum. Visitors can view Remington's oil painting with the same title exhibited in this gallery.