Book Review: The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman

Author: Francis Parkman
Title: The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life
Narrator: Robert Morris
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2012, originally published in 1849)

This narrative describes 23-year-old Parkman’s travels west in  with fellow Boston Brahmin Quincy Adams Shaw.  Together they travel with settlers adventurers through the future states of of Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas (the title is a misnomer as they never go to Oregon), and spend three weeks hunting buffalo with the Ogala Sioux.  It’s a well-written narrative that captures the flora and fauna of the prairies, the lives of settlers, soldiers, and Native Americans, and the uncertainty of so much change happening in the region at one time.

Unfortunately, the huge problem is that Parkman is deeply prejudice against the native peoples, which yes is a characteristic of the time, but there were more sympathetic contemporary white American writers of the time as well.  Parkman also is dismissive of a number of white settlers he encounters.  I kind of imagine that Parkman and Shaw were like Charles Emerson Winchester haughtily looking down on those around them.  So, yes, this is a terrific descriptive narrative, but there are a lot of aspects that will be hard to stomach for modern readers.

Recommended booksThe Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper, The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
Rating: ***

JP A to Z: P is for Parkman #AtoZChallenge #JamaicaPlain

P is for Parkman

If you visit Jamaica Plain, you’ll run into the name “Parkman” in various places.

It’s the name of a playground:


It’s inscribed on a school building, now home to the BTU K-8 School:


It’s the name of a road running past Jamaica Pond:


And if you brave the ridiculously high-speed traffic on Francis Parkman Drive where there is no crosswalk to be found, you might  make your way to this memorial:


All of this is to remember one of Jamaica Plain’s most noted residents, Francis Parkman (1823-1893):


He was so famous that he is the only Jamaica Plain resident to date to appear on a US postage stamp:


Here are some facts about Francis Parkman:

  • He was a noted historian focusing on the history of conflict between colonizing powers in his seven volume work France and England in North America.
  • He’s most famous, however, for his book The Oregon Trail, a narrative of a journey out west he took with his friend Quincy Adams Shaw when he was 23.
  • In addition to history, Parkman was interested in horticulture, active in the Massachusetts Horticulture Society, and briefly a Professor of Horticulture with Harvard University.
  • He bought a cottage overlooking Jamaica Pond in  1854 and named it Sunnyside.
  • Parkman served as Trustee of the Boston Athenaeum from 1858 until his death.
  • During the Civil War he sought to collect publications from the Confederacy resulting in the Athenaeum having one of the worlds largest collections of material published in the Confederacy.
  • When Jamaica Pond was acquired by the city in the 1890s and given to Frederick Law Olmsted to landscape as part of the Emerald Necklace system of parks, the great respect for Parkman lead to Sunnyside being one of only two houses allowed to remain (the other, Pinebank, was demolished in 2007).  After Parkman’s death in 1893, Sunnyside was demolished.
  • On the sight of Sunnyside stands the memorial to Francis Parkman which includes a sculpture by Daniel Chester French.
  • The inscription on the memorial reads:

“Here were for many years he lived and where
He died friends of Francis Parkman have placed
This seat in token of their admiration for his
Character and for his achievements”.

  • Despite living and dying in Jamaica Plain he is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Post for “P” in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

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