What I’m Reading: The Oregon Trail

I just finished up the audio book The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck.  I like things all pioneer life and historical so I had to grab this one.

I actually put in on my hold list without reading a thing about the book except the title.  I was really surprised when I found it to be an autobiography.  I have read an autobiography or two but ther aren’t something I quickly gravitate towards.  This one I liked.

The author Rinker Buck and his brother Nick hitched up a mule team and wagon and head across the states via the Oregon Trail…only they did it, just a few years ago in modern times.  The book is funny at times, scary at times, cute at times but most of all just a fun read.  If rough language bothers you, it might not be your book but I found the book wonderful.

Here’s what Amazon had to say, “An epic account of traveling the length of the Oregon Trail the old-fashioned way—in a covered wagon with a team of mules, an audacious journey that hasn’t been attempted in a century—which also chronicles the rich history of the trail, the people who made the migration, and its significance to the country.

Spanning two thousand miles and traversing six states from Missouri to the Pacific coast, the Oregon Trail is the route that made America. In the fifteen years before the Civil War, when 400,000 pioneers used the trail to emigrate West—scholars still regard this as the largest land migration in history—it united the coasts, doubled the size of the country, and laid the groundwork for the railroads. Today, amazingly, the trail is all but forgotten.

Rinker Buck is no stranger to grand adventures. His first travel narrative, Flight of Passage, was hailed by The New Yorker as “a funny, cocky gem of a book,” and with The Oregon Trail he brings the most important route in American history back to glorious and vibrant life.

Traveling from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Baker City, Oregon, over the course of four months, Buck is accompanied by three cantankerous mules, his boisterous brother, Nick, and an “incurably filthy” Jack Russell terrier named Olive Oyl. Along the way, they dodge thunderstorms in Nebraska, chase runaway mules across the Wyoming plains, scout more than five hundred miles of nearly vanished trail on foot, cross the Rockies, and make desperate fifty-mile forced marches for water. The Buck brothers repair so many broken wheels and axels that they nearly reinvent the art of wagon travel itself. They also must reckon with the ghost of their father, an eccentric yet loveable dreamer whose memory inspired their journey across the plains and whose premature death, many years earlier, has haunted them both ever since.

But The Oregon Trail is much more than an epic adventure. It is also a lively and essential work of history that shatters the comforting myths about the trail years passed down by generations of Americans. Buck introduces readers to the largely forgotten roles played by trailblazing evangelists, friendly Indian tribes, female pioneers, bumbling U.S. Army cavalrymen, and the scam artists who flocked to the frontier to fleece the overland emigrants. Generous portions of the book are devoted to the history of old and appealing things like the mule and the wagon. We also learn how the trail accelerated American economic development. Most arresting, perhaps, are the stories of the pioneers themselves—ordinary families whose extraordinary courage and sacrifice made this country what it became.

At once a majestic journey across the West, a significant work of history, and a moving personal saga,The Oregon Trail draws readers into the journey of a lifetime. It is a wildly ambitious work of nonfiction from a true American original. It is a book with a heart as big as the country it crosses”

This was so fun to read as many times I have thought how wonderful it would be to do this exact same experience.

When writing this review I came across this Youtube video that might give you a little flavor of the book.

I loved the book. Amazon readers say 4.2 stars…I am going out there and saying 4.8. I read some of the Amazon reviews and some didn’t like the author shared his past history and demons in the book. Me, I loved that. I can’t imagine days and days on end riding along and not having all of your life roll past your eyes. I think it was all part of his real life experience. For me it was a great mix of trail history, personal history, sibling relationship, animal relationship, history and just good writing rolled together.

4 thoughts on “What I’m Reading: The Oregon Trail

  1. Gretchen

    It’s amazing they could travel all that distance and it only took 4 months. I’ll have to look for this at our library, I think it sounds like a book I would enjoy.

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  2. Laura Hovland

    Hi Jo – – – Thank you for this great review of the “Oregon Trail” by Rinker Buck. I liked the book so much that I read it twice. Once before and once after taking a road trip with a friend. We tried to follow the Oregon Trail as well (although we were in a car). I came away with a great appreciation for what the pioneers did, but also a new understanding of how much assistance they provided each other. It was NOT everyone for themselves. Whole communities of travelers were needed to get the wagons over the rivers and hills. A great read and learning experience.

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  3. Susie Q

    The year of the Oregon Trail sesquicentennial was a family reunion in Oregon. Took my kids west and did the last 1,000 miles of the trail by CAR…. funny thing…. the trail did not follow the highway!!! Saw lots of ruts and some beautiful out of the way places it was trip with family at the end!! The book sounds like a good read.

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  4. ShirlR

    This book sounds like a super read! Can’t wait to get it! As a native Oregonian, i appreciate all things Oregon. There is a wonderful museum built on the rolling prairie on the outskirts of Baker City commemorating this event, wonderful dioramas, etc. If you gaze at the surrounding prairie, you can still see what I was told are the original wagon ruts amid the waving prairie grasses. It was fall when we visited there; gives you goose-bumps to actually still see those ruts, remembering those hardy pioneers who bravely made this journey West.

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