Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/153

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135
The Oregon Trail

westward with its caravans for Santa Fé, another track faded into the plains to the north-west and hammered its devious sagebrush course over mountains, over valleys, through difficult canyons, across dangerous rivers or deserts of death to the Columbia River, to Oregon, to California. This was the path that Francis Parkman,[1] just out of college, followed in 1846 as far as Fort Laramie; an experience which gave us The California and Oregon Trail (1849). Ezra Meeker travelled it in 1852 and back again in 1906, and in The Ox-Team, or the Old Oregon Trail (1906) he relates what befell him in this long, wild journey with an ox-team—a real "bull-whacker's" tale.

Mrs. Ann Boyd had experiences on this difficult highway in the late forties, and she presents the record in The Oregon Trail (1862). A rare volume on the same road is Joel Palmer's Journal of Travels Over the Rocky Mountains to the Mouth of the Columbia River (1847). For those desiring to identify in detail the route and distances of the Oregon Trail of early days there is a complete exposition in the masterly work by H. M. Chittenden, History of the American Fur Trade in the Far West (1902).

The chain binding Europe by the west to Cathay, of which the Santa Fé and the Oregon trails were preliminary links, was being forged to completion by this steady march of pioneers across the salubrious uplands of the Far West. At the same time the surrounding seas were breaking under the prows of American ships. T. J. Jacobs writes of the cruise of the clipper ship Margaret Oakley in Scenes, Incidents, and Adventures in the Pacific Ocean (1844); and the United States government took a hand in maritime exploration by sending Captain Charles Wilkes with six ships and a large company of scientific men on an important cruise to explore and survey the South Seas. From Australia, Wilkes steered for the South Pole and on 19 January, 1840, he was the first to see the Antarctic Continent, albeit only a very short time before the French navigator D'Urville also sighted it. For 1500 miles Wilkes skirted the icy coast, and the region he reported was accordingly named Wilkes Land. He also visited Hawaii, California, and Oregon, carrying on some survey work in the latter region. Five volumes were published: The Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841,

  1. See also Book III, Chap. xv.