Posted by TFG on December 4th, 2007
I’ve been owing this review to Sgt. Mom for a much longer time than I like to owe things to good folks. Life kind of got in the way of reading first, and then dang if it didn’t do the same thing again when it came time to write my little review. But, I’ve knocked out a few things that needed knocking and here ya go.
I know Celia thru the internet as Sgt. Mom, posting at the Daily Brief. As a non-Texas native resident of San Antonio, I’ve always been fascinated in her lengthy posts about historical Texas. Most Texans, sadly, don’t know as much as Sgt. Mom does about the early days of the Great Republic, and I found I was always learning something new every time she posted one, as well. It didn’t take long to strike up a virtual friendship, being as I’m a pretty provincial Texan (I’m not sure if you’ve noticed that or not.) Anyway, to make a long story short, after I moved to San Antonio, it wasn’t long before Celia’s first book, To Truckee’s Trail, was ready for selling, and she was kind enough to even drive a copy over and drop it off for me. The basis for the book is the Stephens-Townsend wagon train from Ohio to California — a short way of saying thousands of miles of walking, riding, and Conestoga-wagoning through high plains, deserts, mountains, and finally what is modern-day Sacramento. The cool thing about the book is that it uses the diary of Dr. John Townsend as a jumping-off point for the fictionalized part of a true story.
As a fan of the American West, and always eager to understand what it was that drove regular Americans to pull up stakes and head for the frontier, I found To Truckee’s Trail fascinating from the start. There is a bushel-basket of characters and personalities to get to know (and if there’s one complaint I have, it’s that there might be too many), and the motivations for each one of them to make the trip. The technical details all ring true, as well. I’ve personally never been on a wagon train that crossed the Sierra Nevadas, but everything that happened in the book jibes with everything else I’ve read about the challenges and difficulties of making such a journey. Celia does a fine job of illuminating the difficulties the early settlers and the migrants in their wagons faced while marching across Indian territories that had only rarely seen the white man, and when they had, they were generally either the US Army or a random crazy trapper/mountain man. In other words, not normal people like doctors and blacksmiths and farmers just trying to get to the Promised Land.
The bottom line is that I really enjoyed To Truckee’s Trail. If you enjoy anything of the American West, the frontier, the folks who opened it and made it our home, I bet you will, too and I recommend this book to you very strongly. You can get it here at BookLocker, so chop-chop. At the very least, if you’re reading this dusty capped-off dry-hole of the Internet tubes, you’ve got someone on your Christmas list who will enjoy it.
FWIW, I’m looking forward to her next book, too, which she describes thusly – “Barsetshire with Cypress Trees and a Lot of Sidearms.” My understanding is that it is set in Texas, is about 2000 pages, has cattlemen and Injuns and tons of forgotten Texas history and of course lots of sidearms, so…you know, what’s not to look forward to? We need more of that, to my mind.
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