Roughly 2000 miles of trail, traversed at a rate of 12-15 miles per day – difficult land to travel over. Spring - Autumn
Between 1843-69 thousands of people travelled by foot, horse and wagon from the eastern parts of the United States to what is now Washington, California, Nevada, Utah and Oregon. People came for many reasons. Some came because there was more land for farms and others came to search for gold. Idea of Oregon as a land of opportunity, where people would make a living. However, this trip was not always easy. One out of every ten people who travelled along the trail died. Reason for Parkman’s journey is one hardly conceivable to most pioneers, but taps into a central preoccupation of the myth of the West: a love of adventure.
Fascination with history and adventure – a way of inhabiting the past. But when we do we’re participating in cultural mythmaking. Parker was an historian, but all history is a symptom of its times. So we learn about the practical hardships: the illness, loss of life and rough travelling – but we also learn something of the way the culture saw this vast migration and its consequences.
For an example of the way this works we could perhaps look at the way the OT has been reinvented for our own times. On the one hand we have the cosy, ‘edutainment’ of the OT computer game, but we also have its adapted forms. The ‘organ trail’, a zombie filled road trip across a post apocalypse american landscape shows that the vastness of these landscapes and the trope of the challenging journey across them still inspire awe in the american consciousness. Now that the fear of the ‘other’ can no longer reasonably be projected onto people of different cultures, the zombie hoard quite often expresses a sense of vulnerability in the face of the unknown.
The travel narrative still seizes the American imagination, albeit in a much darker form.
In the 19th C, travel narratives didn’t have to invent the unknown. It was right there at the heart of the country... Many people were interested to explore. Proliferation of travel narratives
Narratives of hope and excitement, but they too hadtheir heart of darkness...
Parkman’s bluntness and lack of emotion...
Ambiguity in Parkman’s narrative
This immutability of the Indian is of course a projection. We have hints even from Parkman’s narrative that the first nations were involved in trade, that they were adapting through intermarriage, and generally trying to gain what advantage they could from a bad situation. Cherokee nation is an example of this: success in farming and cotton. But this narrative was one that leaders were simply not prepared to accept. The narrative of the immutable Indian
Francis Parkman Jr.The Oregon Trail (1849) The Oregon Trail (1845)
Why go West?• Land speculation• Depression after panic of 1837• Moral objections to moving South
Parkman’s reasons• Adventure• Desire to know more about ‘Indians’• Wanted to experience what he had read
• Born 16th September 1823• Suffered from ill health as a child• Around age 15 he moved with family to Boston• Entered Harvard in 1840. Went on to Law School.• Travelling and exploring America and Europe• 1845: anonymous publication of wilderness sketches in Knickerbocker Magazine• 1846: undertook journey that would later be incorporated into The Oregon Trail.• 1847-49: original version of The Oregon Trail published serially in Knickerbocker Magazine. ‘The Oregon Trail: Or a Summer’s Journey Out of Bounds’, author- ‘a Bostonian’.• 1849: rev. version published as a book:The California and Oregon Trail: Being Sketches of Prairie and Rocky Mountain Life
• 1850: married Catherine Scollay Bigelow• 1851: The Conspiracy of Pontiac• 1852: a new ed. of The California and Oregon Trail- Prairie and Rocky Mountain Life: Or, The California and Oregon Trail• 1856: Vassal Morton (novel)• Following wife’s death in 1858, Parkman travelled to Paris for treatment of nervous disorders• Return to Boston in 1859. Several years spent on horticulture.• Historical study- France and England in North America- published in two parts; Pioneers of France in the New World (1865), The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century (1867)• 1869: The Discovery of the Great West• 1872: new ed. of The Oregon Trail published with significant revisions• 1874: The Old Regime in Canada
• 1877: Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV• Articles published in North American Review :• ‘The Failure of Universal Suffrage (1878); ‘The Woman Question’ (1879); ‘The Woman Question Again’ (1880)• 1881- Trip to France and England• 1884- Montcalm and Wolf published• 1885: rev. ed. of Pioneers of France in the New World• Around 1887: Some of the Reasons Against Woman Suffrage• 1890: Our Common Schools- Parkman supported public education• 1892: A Half-Century of Conflict and final rev. version of The Oregon Trail• 1893: Parkman died 8th November after an attack of appendicitis
“Experience the life of a pioneer as youlead your wagon party, hunting forfood, tending to sicknesses, crossingtreacherous rivers and more throughoutthe 2,000 mile journey.” - www.oregontrail.com
Travel narratives• A tradition of narratives concerned with travelling West eg. Henry Schoolcraft Narrative of an Expedition through the Upper Mississippi to Itasca Lake (1834)• 19th Century fascination w/exploring America extended to European writers (eg. Tocqueville Democracy in America, 1835)• America as NEW world; sense of excitement; a social experiment
Main types of narrative…1. Narratives that ROMANTICIZE the landscape2. Narratives that focus on the INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCE of the traveller3. Narratives that ANALYSE AND ASSESS the experience, providing cultural commentaryFrequent criticism of The Oregon Trail- Parkman ‘slack of reflection; observation WITHOUT analysis
Key aspects of The Oregon Trail• Dismissive attitude towards emigrants (QUOTE 1)• A class issue?• Parkman is a gentleman on an outing- life on the frontier as entertainment• Intrusions of emigrants and their concerns as a distraction from Parkman’s aim- pursuit of adventure
Masculinity and individualism• Hero figure• Man in the wilderness• Recklessness
Landscape• Wilderness• ‘Great American desert’• Settling empty land• ‘unknown’• ‘unexplored’• ‘peaceful’ settlement of ‘free’ land
Civilised vs. Savage• Anxiety about Indians• Negative individualism• Worries about the shape of America• Settling, or colonisation?“...the progress of mankind is arrested and you condemn one of the most beautiful and fertile tracts of the earth to perpetual sterility as the hunting ground of a few savages.” Representative Strother, Annals of Congress. 15th Congress, 2nd session, (1818-19): 838
PROGRESS• Blaming the victim• Manifest destiny “The Indian is hewn out of a rock. You can rarely change the form without destruction of the substance. Races of inferior energy have possessed a power of expansion and assimilation to which he is a stranger; and it is this fixed and rigid quality which has proved his ruin. He will not learn the arts of civilization, and he and his forests must perish together. The stern, unchanging features of his mind excite our admiration from their very immutability; and we look with deep interest on the fate of this irreclaimable son of the wilderness.” Parkman, Conspiracy, I:48.
Narratives of Justification“The peoples of those vast countries of land rather overran than inhabited them.” - Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations (New York: Samuel Campbell, 1796), I: 94. Founding principles left ignored: genocide and slavery
Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851)• Indian ‘destined to melt and vanish before the advancing waves of Anglo-American power.’ (I: x, xi.)