The great nineteenth-century westward migration remains an enduring American legacy. From the moment the first organized party set out from Independence, Missouri, in 1841, overland emigrants often recognized that they were engaged in the most significant experience of their lives. A few wrote letters from the trail or kept diaries and journals on their trek to the Pacific, while many others recorded their recollections and memoirs. These documents preserve a record of how ordinary people accomplished an extraordinary task. This new four-volume series is a comprehensive narrative history of overland travel from 1840 to 1870, including new light on the relations between emigrants and the first peoples to live between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean. Travelers crossing the continent encountered a surprising mix of cultures, including the Mexicans who built the adobe trading posts like Fort Laramie, the Polynesians who manned the Hudson’s Bay Company’s forts, and the French-Americans and former slaves who comprised the majority of the fur trade’s “mountain men.” In contrast to Hollywood stereotypes, their journals show that the first overland travelers relied on the knowledge and help of local tribes to make their trek. Only after the trails began to destroy the resources Indians depended upon for survival did conflict became more common than cooperation. This is a story of triumph and tragedy, for the achievements of the pioneers came at great cost to themselves and even greater cost to the original inhabitants of the West. Based upon exhaustive research of primary source documents, Overland West will be the definitive work on the western trails.
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