History in Review
Across the Great Divide:
Robert Stuart and the Discovery of the Oregon Trail
By Laton McCartney.
(Free Press: 2003. Pg. 320.)
Reviewed by Auggie Moore - February 3, 2005
Laton McCartney, a decedent of Robert Stuart, has written a marvelously accessible popular history about Robert Stuart and his team's discovery of a path west that quickly become known as the Oregon Trail. Although written for the general reader, Across the Great Divide: Robert Stuart and the Discovery of the Oregon Trail is an authoritative text based in large part upon Stuart's own letters and journals.
As the author aptly points out, while Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are heralded as the first explores of the American West, it was Stuart and his team's discovery and mapping of an overland route to the Oregon and California that actually opened the American West to future pioneers who followed the trail they blazed across the Midwest and through the Rocky Mountains to a new life.
Unlike early explores, who traveled east to west, Stuart's expedition of discovery traveled from west to east. In 1810, Stuart was part of a team of men who sailed to the mouth of the Columbia River, where they set up an outpost. This outpost was financed by John Jacob Astor, who planned it to be the first of many fur-trading establishments. In 1812, Stuart was chosen to lead the detachment who were tasked with the job of heading back east to update Astor on the outpost's endeavors. It was on this journey eastward that Stuart discovered the South Pass in Wyoming, a passage through the Rocky Mountains that was passable with a wagon. In the years to follow, thousands of immigrants would use the 'Oregon Trail' Stuart blazed to reach the Western territories.
Across the Great Divide is more than just Stuart's biography. It is also the story of pivotal period in American history. This narrative provides the reader with a glimpse, through Stuart's eyes, of the lands that he crossed, the peoples he met along the way, and the hardships and pleasures he encountered along his more than 3,000 mile transcontinental trek. In this work, McCartney also explores the political and economic issues that played such a crucial role in the opening of the West, and how the fur trade and the influx of immigrants disrupted and displace the native populations.
A memorable tale, Across the Great Divide brings Stuart's contribution to American history to the fore. This rousing historical narrative is enhanced by the inclusion of maps and illustrations that compliment the text, as well as endnotes and a brief bibliography that will lead interested readers to additional works on this period. This tale of high-adventure will fascinate readers of all ages! A must read for anyone interested in the exploration of the West, Western Studies, and true-life adventure tales.
Exploring the Colorado River: Firsthand Accounts by Powell and His Crew, by John Wesley Powell.
A fascinating, first hand account of Major Powell and his crew's groundbreaking 1869 journey down the Colorado River.
John Sutter: A Life on the North American Frontier, by Albert L. Hurtado.
Scholarly and authoritative, this is a detailed and intimate biography of John Sutter, that details not only Sutter's successes and impact on Californian history, but also his failures and numerous personal flaws.
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