Friday, November 18, 2011

The Prairie Traveler

I ran across a great little reference book the other day, titled "The Prairie Traveler, A Hand-Book For Overland Expeditions, With Maps, Illustrations, And Itineraries Of The Principal Routes Between The Mississippi And The Pacific," by Randolph B. Marcy.  Marcy was a career U.S. Army officer, who retired in 1881.  The book was originally published in 1859, while Marcy was a Captain.
The book is a fascinating glimpse into life on the prairie during the time of westward expansion, and includes such topics as how to pack, treatment of animals, fording rivers, quicksand, marching with loose horses, descending mountains, making fires, tracking and pursuing Indians, hunting, and stampedes. 
My favorite section of the book is Captain Marcy's detailed overland route itineraries.  Each contains distances between camping places, character of the roads, and wood/water/grass facilities.  An excerpt from the Leavenworth City to Great Salt Lake City itinerary:

Leavenworth City to Salt Creek (8 miles) - Good camp; wood, water, and grass.
to Cold Spring (12 miles) - To the right of the road, in a deep ravine, plenty of wood, water, and grass.
to Small Branch (12 miles) - To the north of the road, in an arroya, good wood, water, and grass.  Here enters the road from Atcheson, 6 miles distant.
to Grasshopper Creek (16 miles) - Good wood, water, and grass.
to Walnut Creek (9 miles) - Road passes a town called Whitehead, 5 miles from last camp.  Water in pools, but 1/2 a mile below is a fine spring; plenty of wood, water, and grass.

The edition of the book I have does not include the complete list of itineraries as published in the 1859 edition, but does contain information on the routes between Ft. Smith, AK to Santa Fe and Albuquerque; Leavenworth City to Great Salt lake City; Great Salt Lake City to Los Angeles and San Francisco; Indianola and Powder-horn to San Antonio; St. Paul's MN to Ft. Wallah Wallah, OR; and a few others.  

If you have ancestors who ventured beyond the Mississippi River, or you are a student of American history with an interest in westward migration, this is a great read.  As a genealogist searching for places your ancestors may have stopped along their march west, the book might contain that last helpful clue you've been searching for.

Marcy's hope was to arm the pioneer with knowledge he himself had gleaned from years spent on the prairie.  In his preface, he says, "With such a  book in his hand, he will be able, in difficult circumstances, to avail himself of the matured experience of veteran travelers, and thereby avoid many otherwise unforeseen disasters; while, during the ordinary routine of marching, he will greatly augment the sum of his comforts, avoid many serious losses, and enjoy a comparative exemption from doubt and anxieties.  He will feel himself a master spirit in the wilderness he traverses, and not the victim of every new combination of circumstances which nature affords or fate allots, as if to try his skill and prowess."

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