Pacific Destiny

Dale L. Walker, Author
Dale L. Walker, Author Forge $27.95 (480p) ISBN 978-0-312-86933-5
Ebook - 480 pages - 978-1-4668-1513-1
Paperback - 478 pages - 978-0-7653-0310-3
Prebound-Other - 978-1-4176-3667-9
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In this melancholy, engrossing narrative, historian Walker (Bear Flag Rising: The Conquest of California, 1846) tells the story of early emigration to the Pacific Northwest (from the 1810s to 1848, when America acquired most of the Western territories). ""My ambition,"" Walker writes, was ""to answer the questions I imagined the Platte River natives asking: Where were all these people going and why?"" Proceeding chronologically, Walker looks for answers in pioneers' biographies. Drawing from the writings of well-known figures (like Washington Irving and Francis Parkman) and the letters of common travelers (mountain men seeking their fortune west of St. Louis, missionaries who aimed to convert reluctant Blackfeet and civilians traveling in overloaded caravans), he recounts not only the harrowing conditions on the Oregon Trail but the economic, geopolitical and personal reasons for westward migration. John Jacob Astor sent traders to the Columbia River basin in hopes of establishing a fur-trading empire; countless numbers went in search of gold; a few eccentrics went to find spiritual meaning. But they all got more than they bargained for in the way of Indian raids, mountain climbs, flooding rapids, desert heat, drifting snow and difficult terrain. Their journeys, he argues, did shape international politics, however. Not only did settlers' conflicts with (and betrayals of) Indians determine the future of the domestic frontier, the Oregon Trail eventually lured enough settlers to force Britain into an accommodation on boundaries with Canada. Walker constructs a compelling narrative that is a string of unusual profiles rather than an analytic account of a major event in American history. (Aug.)
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