The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey
Author: Rinker Buck
Publisher: Simon and Schuster, 2015
Genre: Nonfiction, history, memoir
Hardcover Edition: 416 pages with maps and line drawings
Source: Library copy
The adventure described in this book is a lively real-life journey across the 2000 plus miles of the famed Oregon Trail. The reader is a willing hostage to travel and history. The turbulent nature of the journey, the authors’ choice of words and tremendous eye and mind for the perfect detail makes his journey live again in the mind of the reader.
Buck makes driving a wagon sound more exciting than an account of rafting over a falls, makes the heart of the reader beat faster than one might have imaged. About their steepest descent Buck writes “We were just a descending cauldron of shrieking brakes and burning thresher belt now.” Pieces of thresher belt served as brake pads.
And who thought mules could be so interesting? That animal that even we western lovers hardly pay attention to is the heart and soul of this journey. This reader couldn’t get enough about the mules, past, present, future. Shake your head but read the book and see what you think? And for the mechanical types, all kinds of gadgets, rebuilds, fancy chains and hitches fill these pages.
Throughout the adventure the reader learns about the author, his relationship with his brother who accompanies him on the trip, and the father he remembers who took him and some of his siblings on adventures, perhaps less epic than this long trek, but no less memorable. These glimpses into personal motivations and talents add depth to the book, and reason to care deeply for the two men, their wagon and their mules.
And the history: always relevant, evocative and factual. Rinker Buck highlighted the adventures of women and other less well-known characters and places of this historic trail that delivered settlers to the Far West from the 1820’s to the end of the 19th century and beyond. His real accomplishment is to give the reader the sights, sounds, and emotions of what it was like to travel these places at that time.
The whole adventure is likeable, crazy and fun while being epic and dangerous. If this is travel writing, it’s the best, if it’s memoir, its grounded and true, if it’s history, its relevant and downright appealing.
No doubt! It’s my favorite book of the summer. Hooray for Oregon! Listen to the cracking voice of brother Nick call the mules: “Big Team! C’mon, Big Team! Beck! Jake! Bute! Oregon! Oregon, Big Team! We gotta make this hill, Big Team!” (p. 207)
The author is generous and kind to the people he meets and to those of us who read about the adventure. He appreciates his adventure and so we want to come along. Yup! Big Team. Big Team! Let’s get rollin’!