Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 6/Reviews (Number 1)
From the West to the West. Across the Plains to Oregon. By Abigail Scott Duniway. (Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co. 1905. pp. xii, 311.)
The theme is one that possesses a peculiar interest to the people of the Pacific Northwest, who rightly regard the crossing of the continent by the emigrant trains of half a century ago as the fundamental fact of the early history of the region. Any book, poem, or other literary production based upon incidents connected with "crossing the plains" is sure to be warmly welcomed by an Oregon public.
The book before us has some claim to recognition on more general grounds. The author has the true spirit of the West of the frontier with whose people she is in heartiest sympathy; and she understands full well that the West in American history is more a set of conditions than a place or geographical section of the country. There is, therefore, a cosmopolitanism in her westernism that adds materially to the value of the book. Some of her most charming passages relate to life in northern Illinois under primitive conditions in those settlements. The log schoolhouse, its rude architecture and equipment, and the instruction imparted within its walls by the typical "Irish" schoolmaster; the singing school; the school of metrical geography, and the campmeeting, have rarely been so well portrayed within a brief space. In this and other respects the book will have a place among the descriptive works bearing upon the history of the the middle West.
Yet the author's great achievement lies in another field. She has produced an account of "crossing the plains" that is unique in many respects. The book is, so far as I know, the first professed novel whose scene is the "Oregon Trail." And in writing it Mrs. Duniway was apparently more concerned to make the historical facts stand out in perfect clearness than she was to make the book square in all particulars with the canons of the novelist's art. The things that leave their impress upon the reader's mind are such as the following: the motives inducing men in the prime of life or young manhood to undertake the journey to Oregon fifty years ago; the hardship, especially to the women, in parting with aged parents who must be left behind; the sufferings of emigrants on the route; the strength, the resourcefulness, the essential hopefulness and idealism of the true American pioneer (qualities so admirably illustrated by the character of John Ranger, known to be Mr. Scott, the author's father). These are not lost sight of in all the windings of the story, however much imagination or pure fancy may have had to do with fitting it to the tastes of readers of light literature. The volume is not a history; but it throws many sidelights upon Northwestern history, helping- us to realize the past of this region in such a way as to make it easier to idealize it. Herein lies its peculiar value.It is also to be regarded as a legacy from an honored woman of an earlier generation, 'round whom; ' Life's twilight's shadows" are falling 1, to the young 1 women and men of to-day. Whether or not they agree with the author on social and political questions, which she could not resist the temptation to discuss in these pages, they can not but receive benefit from reading this interesting book.