The Great Medicine Road, Part 2: Narratives of the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, 1849

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Michael L. Tate
University of Oklahoma Press, Oct 1, 2015 - History - 328 pages

During the early weeks of 1848, as U.S. congressmen debated the territorial status of California, a Swiss immigrant and an itinerant millwright forever altered the future state’s fate. Building a sawmill for Johann August Sutter, James Wilson Marshall struck gold. The rest may be history, but much of the story of what happened in the following year is told not in history books but in the letters, diaries, journals, and other written recollections of those whom the California gold rush drew west. In this second installment in the projected four-part collection The Great Medicine Road: Narratives of the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, the hardy souls who made the arduous trip tell their stories in their own words.

Seven individuals’ tales bring to life a long-ago year that enriched some, impoverished others, and forever changed the face of North America. Responding to often misleading promotional literature, adventurers made their way west via different routes. Following the Carson River through the Sierra Nevada, or taking the Lassen Route to the Sacramento Valley, they passed through the Mormon Zion of Great Salt Lake City and traded with and often displaced Native Americans long familiar with the trails. Their accounts detail these encounters, as well as the gritty realities of everyday life on the overland trails. They narrate events, describe the vast and diverse landscapes they pass through, and document a journey as strange and new to them as it is to many readers today.

Through these travelers’ diaries and memoirs, readers can relive a critical moment in the remaking of the West—and appreciate what a difference one year can make in the life of a nation.


List of Illustrations
Sidney Roberts A Treatise Showing the Way to California
Henry O Ferguson Recollections
Sherman Hawley Two Letters
John Evans Brown Memoirs of a FortyNiner

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About the author (2015)

Michael L. Tate is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, and author of The Frontier Army in the Settlement of the West and Indians and Emigrants: Encounters on the Overland Trail.

Will Bagley (1950–2021) was an independent historian who wrote about overland emigration, frontier violence, railroads, mining, and the Mormons. Bagley published extensively over the years and is the author and editor of many books, articles, and reviews in professional journals. Bagley was the general editor of Arthur H. Clark Company's documentary history series KINGDOM IN THE WEST: The Mormons and the American Frontier. Bagley was a Wallace Stegner Centennial Fellow at the University of Utah and a Archibald Hanna Jr. Fellow in American History at Yale University's Beinecke Library. Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows has won numerous awards, including a Spur Award from Western Writers of America, the Bancroft History Prize from the Denver Public Library, Westerners International Best Book, and the Western History Association Caughey Book Prize for the most distinguished book on the history of the American West. So Rugged and Mountainous: Blazing the Trails to Oregon and California, 1812–1848 is the first of the two-volume Overland West: The Story of the Oregon and California Trails series.

Richard Rieck is Professor Emeritus of Geography at Western Illinois University.

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