About Francis Parkman: The Oregon Trail, The Conspiracy of Pontiac (LOA #53)
“From boyhood,” wrote Francis Parkman, “I had a taste for the woods and the Indians.” This Library of America volume, containing The Oregon Trail and The Conspiracy of Pontiac, brilliantly demonstrates this lifelong fascination. His first book, The Oregon Trail, is a vivid account of his frontier adventures and his encounters with Plains Indians in their final era of nomadic life. The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada, Parkman’s first historical work, portrays the fierce conflict that erupted along the Great Lakes in the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War and chronicles the defeats in which the eastern Native American tribes “received their final doom.”
The Oregon Trail (1849) opens on a Missouri River steamboat crowded with traders, gamblers, speculators, Oregon emigrants, “mountain men,” and Kansas Indians. In his search for Natives untouched by white culture, Parkman meets the Whirlwind, a Sioux chieftain, and follows him through the Black Hills. His descriptions of natives’ buffalo hunts, feasts and games, feuds, and gift-giving derive their intensity from his awareness that he was recording a vanishing way of life. Praised by Herman Melville for its “true wild-game flavor,” The Oregon Trail is a classic tale of adventure that celebrates the rich variety of life Parkman found on the frontier and the immensity and grandeur of America’s western landscapes.
In The Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851), Parkman chronicles the consequences of the French defeat in Canada for the eastern Native American tribes. At the head of the Native American resistance to the Anglo-American advance in the 1760s was the daring Ottawa leader Pontiac, whose attacks on the frontier forts and settlements put in doubt the continuation of western expansion. A powerful narrative of battles and skirmishes, treaties and betrayals, written with eloquence and fervor and filled with episodes of heroism and endurance, The Conspiracy of Pontiac captures the spirit of a tragic and tumultuous age.
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“Like Thucydides, Francis Parkman conceived of historical inquiry as a literary enterprise of the highest order, requiring both scientific method and the art of rendering a story. As he narrated the sufferings of the French explorers, he studied early maps in order to imagine the wilderness as seen through their eyes. The ideal historical narrator, Parkman felt, ‘must himself be, as it were, a sharer or spectator of the action he described.’ He wrote as though he were a fellow-explorer at Champlain’s side.” — The New Yorker