This did not start out as an easy book to get into but it was well worth the effort Each chapter stands on its own even though some of the same early west characters appear many times throughout 20 year period being studied The author is a first rate writer and historian and he has drawn on both primary and secondary sources He also includes his own interpretation of events when individual accounts differed I found it interesting to compare the relationships between the trappers and various of the Native American tribes that were encountered Overall this book provides an excellent perspective on period following the Lewis and Clark expedition and the opening of the west and the Indian wars. Across the Wide Missouri by Bernard DeVoto did not for me live up to its hype A Pulitzer Prize winner in 1946, this tale did not translate well across the last 70 years Very simply it is a story about the end of the western United States fur trade in the early 1830s The narrative covers the six years from 1832 through 1838 and details the decline in the fur trade i.e mostly beaver and some buffalo details being the operant word Part geography lesson, part travelogue, part corporate history, and part ethnology study the chronicle just didn t hold my interest It gets bogged down in minutia too often It covers the geography of the western reaches from St Louis to and through the Continental Divide in excruciating detail this river meets this creek which with this other stream forms the so and so As travelogue, it recounts numerous wagon train and river boat expeditions moving west for the fur trade, and usually does so by exact name of the leader and many of the participants of each excursion As a business history, it details the corporate battles among the American Fur Company, the Hudson Bay Corporation, and others for dominance in the fur trade, even in the waning days of its import It also acts as an ethnology study, eventually describing various Indian tribes and sects by their characteristics whether they were friendly to whites, known for being thieves, cruel with other tribes, and the like.Now if the reader is a researcher of this period in American history, this book will be a gold mine if not, then they ll probably soon start speed reading Pulitzer Prize or not, this one was just ok. Winner Of The Pulitzer Prize And The Bancroft Prize Across The Wide Missouri Tells The Compelling Story Of The Climax And Decline Of The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade During The S More Than A History, It Portrays The Mountain Fur Trade As A Way Of Business And A Way Of Life, Vividly Illustrating How It Shaped The Expansion Of The American West This was an enjoyable read, up to a point I have problems with the whole Manifest Destiny mentality after all I have ancestral feet in both camps, Native and European But what I like about it most is that it deals with a period of time in which neither of the future belligerents were quite so much at odds with each other the whites had not quite yet begun to break their promises, so mountain men could exist as a culture between the two Intermarriages were prevalent in this time, with less of the incipient racism which was endemic to the settler period DeVoto focuses on a critical five to ten year period of competition between the Rocky Mountain Fur Co the American Fur Co and the Hudson Bay Trading Co with some skill tracing explorations, interactions between the mountain men and the Indians as well as the competing beaver and first buffalo hunters themselves The language and style can be a little florid, stiff, and obtuse, but I suppose that s part of the idiosyncracy of attempting to explain history to both scholar and lay reader And probably just like a mountain man, too It s not without its bias toward the United States but nevertheless has a good deal of respect for the original cultures and yet recognizes hindsight being the historian s task simultaneously mistakes were made. DeVoto put his heart into it This book captures the true nature of the trappers as they caught beavers and grabbed what they could as the single decade brought out the best and the worst in man This is one of the best books I have ever read History will not repeat itself the 1830s were the decade of the mountain men. Reading this book was like climbing a mountain on bum knee At times the views are nice, and when you get to the top you know you should feel a sense of accomplishment Instead you feel sore and wonder if it was even worth the trip The fur trade is to me one of the fascinating eras in American history As such I was excited to read what many consider the definitive text on that era the Pulitzer Prize winning Across the Wide Missouri That excitement slowly lessened as the narrative lagged, and by the end I had to force myself to read the last one hundred or so pages The book is chock full of interesting stories and characters but author Bernard DeVoto s presentation is inconsistent and meandering Ostensibly the history of the climax and decline of the fur trade, but DeVoto fails to provide a coherent sense of how these companies operated My sense is he wanted to focus on the fur traders but the lack of a larger perspective made it difficult to link the traders with the trade Further, much of the middle of the book is wasted on narrating specific travels of even minor footnotes in history DeVoto seems to want the reader to understand how mobile trader s lives were, specifically how these mountaineers had to react to differing stimuli in differing ways depending on the actions of Native Americans, other traders, weather and a dozen other factors However, after a few of these trips I found I was losing any sense of the overall narratives I would rather have gotten a larger sense of Jim Bridger the trader than know every trade route he traversed Overall I am glad I plowed through because the final chapters focusing on the Old World Diseases and the accompanying catastrophic destruction of Native American tribes made it worth it but only just If you are not deeply fascinated by the topic I wouldn t bother as the text is unlikely to increase your fascination with the trappers and the trade. One of my all time favorite books, by one of the best writers I ve encountered, at least in the nonfiction realm It s superb. Dry at times, but some really amazing stories of actual mountain men in the 19th century west. This is the first of the three Devoto titles on America s westward expansion re published by American Heritage some years back It tells the story of the Rocky Mountain fur trade, focusing on its peak years and subsequent decline I found Devoto s writing style to be annoying sometimes rambling, with numerous first person asides intruding into the narrative Devoto also is prone to the liberal pieties of the mid twentieth century, including disdain for economic activity as profiteering attempting to understand what makes business run or the costs that businessmen must account for However, the book does an able job of weaving together some of the disparate forces affecting the West at the time, including competition among the St Louis based fur companies for a declining trade, the efforts of the British Columbia based Hudson s Bay Company to control the same trade,the actions of the Indians caught between these forces, the beginning of missionary activity in the Pacific Northwest,the smallpox epidemic of the 1830s, and just over the horizon, the impending beginning of the great migration by wagon trains commencing in the 1840s The book also illustrates without directly commenting upon the rapid appearance and decline of most of the famous events of Western history The Pony Express existed just 18 months before being supplanted by the telegraph, the post Civil War cattle drives from Texas to Kansas lasted only a few years before the rail lines were extended south to Texas, the great Indian wars of the northern plains began around 1868 or 1869 and were over after 1876, and so on The subject of this book the fur trade lasted less than 20 years before the mountains were trapped out and fashions in Europe and China moved away from beaver felt hats That was far less than one lifetime, leaving most of the participants in the trade or at least those who hadn t been killed in skirmishes with the Indians to reinvent themselves or fade away into poverty and obscurity. This is a really great narrative of the American fur trade in the years 1832 38 When I first picked up the book I was only going to read a few pages, but did 35 I can see why this won the Pulitzer It s full of humor and anecdote and just plain ol good stories There s a wide cast of characters, ranging from the American Fur Company, Rocky Mountain Fur Company, Hudson s Bay Company, and a lot of the smaller companies that came and went We see company men and free trappers and we learn what they wore and carried and did out there in the wilds for years at a time.Lots of missionaries in this book, as the jaunts to Oregon were starting about now, though the Oregon Trail as we know it was still a good 10 to 15 years off DeVoto of course covers that stretch in his book The Year of Decision This book has really good numbers on the disastrous 1837 smallpox outbreak among the Mandan, Arikara, Sioux, Blackfeet, and other Upper Missouri tribes We read how thousands died, but no true numbers exist About half of most tribes were wiped out.Sometimes this book wanders and you ll get to sections where you can easily skim paragraphs or just skip a few pages I began to do that a lot toward the end of the book.DeVoto has that old school style that was taught in colleges during the Depression and earlier, and this can strike the modern reader as a bit strange, off putting at times Then there are the occasional terms like niggardly and such definitely a 1950s book here.I highly recommend this one for those interested in the history of America during this time It s a bit dry and slow at times but most of the book is quite compelling.
Bernard Augustine DeVoto was an American historian and author who specialized in the history of the American West.
- 480 pages
- Across the Wide Missouri
- Bernard DeVoto
- 09 February 2019 Bernard DeVoto