To the Wide Missouri (Paperback)
Traveling in America During the First Decades of Westward Expansion
While the great overland migration routes to America’s far west are well known and documented—the California, Oregon, Mormon, and Santa Fe Trails, the Central Overland and Pony Express—less attention has been given to how Americans in the first decades of the republic traveled across the western frontiers of the original colonies. Following the revolution, Americans began to seek their fortunes to the west in greater numbers. Land grants to veterans inspired others to move, including tradesmen, merchants, and tavern owners. With the Louisiana Purchase in
1803, the country doubled in size, and the rate of migration became extraordinary, with wider and more durable roads built, ferries installed at river crossings, canals cut to move goods, regular stage routes established, and ultimately the first railroad tracks laid down. Entire regions that support- ed few communities in the 1790's exploded in population, and as a result seven new states were admitted to the Union in the decade following the War of 1812. By 1839, the National Road extended more than 700 miles from Washington, DC, to central Illinois, New York’s Erie Canal operated from Albany to Buffalo, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad carried passengers briskly west, ultimately to the Ohio River.
To the Wide Missouri: Traveling in America During the First Decades of Westward Expansion by Louis Garavaglia covers the routes and methods that emigrants used to reach the west in the forty-year period following the Louisiana Purchase. Using contemporary maps and the graphic descriptions found in diaries, journals, letters, and newspaper accounts, the author details not only the land and water routes that led settlers to the western country, but also illustrates the hardship, perseverance, humor, and romance that colored their journey.
I have always had a fascination with how the ‘wilderness’ of America was before the great expansion Westwards and in particular how those early travellers would have seen and appreciated the wonder of the geography, fauna and flora. This book does not directly help my understanding but it certainly delivers in explaining how that westward migration was made possible by the arteries of transport; the rivers, tracks, passes and later roads. A fascinating narrative of these developments that expedited the westward migrations in volumes of migrants and speed that I had not appreciated. That a settler would abandon a perfectly good piece of land and a house to set off again in the expectation (rather than hope) of finding better, really encapsulates the spirit of the times.Michael McCarthy
Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide