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The Oregon Trail

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Francis Parkman’s, “The Oregon Trail” is a tale about the author’s journey through the mid-west with the early frontier pioneers as they began to move along the Oregon Trail and settle the new lands of Oregon and California.  Parkman’s narrative encompasses an ecological view of this early land throughout its discourse as he reveals the many ways in which the early settlers utilized the land and made their way across it.  The Oregon TrailThis intrigue over a land not yet entirely discovered takes on an ecologically based infatuation because of the settlers’ dependence on its bounty for survival and the challenge to tame it.  There is however a cultural element that cannot be dismissed.  The Native Americans held a respect for the ecological value of the land, which was integral to their cultural identity.

It can be reasoned that the land dictated Parkman’s journey because of his curiosity to explore the vast prairies and mountains, which had formed the basis of Parkman’s quest.   Parkman makes this assertion at the start of his book.  “In one of these, the Radnor, since snagged and lost, my friend and relative, Quincy A. Shaw, and myself, left St. Louis on the 28th of April, on a tour of curiosity and amusement to the Rocky Mountains.”  It  was this undying curiosity that fueled Parkman’s desire to explore the Oregon Trail with his friend and soon to be partner, Quincy Shaw.  Their journey begins in St. Louis where they embark for the Oregon Trail through the means of a steamboat, which will take them to Kansas, and the starting point of this ecological adventure.  This is another depiction of the land dictating Parkman’s journey, as they must follow this water route if they wish to follow through with their plans of exploring the western frontier.  In fact, according to Parkman, everyone embarking on the same journey can be found on this steamboat, such as trappers, traders, hunters, and settlers, all of which are equally dependent on the ecological elements of the lands surrounding the Rocky Mountains.

To properly understand the control the land along the Oregon Trail held over its journeying participants one must understand the unspoiled nature that the Rocky Mountains and the surrounding countryside embodied.  For instance, early on in his narrative, Parkman explains how all of the travelers are subject to the atmospheric changes found along the Rocky Mountains when a tremendous storm drops a deluge of water on the area, which hampers all thoughts of travel for the adventurers.  This delays plans for most all of those individuals seeking to find adventure, fortune, or new life along the Oregon Trail.

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