Prairie companions: books about the West's high plains.
Prairie companions: books about the West's high plains Prairie sojourners of the early days had few trustworthy writings about the region to rely on: as late as the Civil War, most books dismissed the entire plains area as "The Great American Desert." But the challenging landscape, stark beauty, and rich history of the region have since inspired an impressive body of literature. If you're planning a prairie sojourn of your own (see page 76), background reading might help your journey "begin in delight and end in wisdom." We asked historians, professors, and librarians to identify some of the best of the plains books. Many of them can be ordered from a catalog: write to Fort Laramie Historical Association, Box 218, Fort Laramie, Wyo. 82212. Here are the experts' suggestions; library catalogs can broaden your choices. To establish the background of the West before the emigration years, be sure to read Bernard De Voto's Across the Wide Missouri (Houghton Mifflin Co., Cambridge, 1947; $10.95). Custer's Luck, by Edgar I. Stewart (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1987; $12.95), first published in 1955, is still the most widely accepted version of the tragic events of the Battle of Little Bighorn. Wallace Stegner's The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1964) is a richly drawn account of the Mormons' route to Salt Lake City, paralleling the Oregon Trail. Out of print, it's available at libraries. The Great Plains, by Walter Prescott Webb (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1981; $9.95), a highly readable paperback reissue of a 1931 classic, discusses the formation of the plains, the Plains Indians, the cattle kingdom (including an account of how barbed wire changed plains history), and the great trail drives. The Long Death: The Last Days of the Plains Indians, by Ralph K. Andrist (Collier Books, New York, 1964; $8.95), gives a vivid but grim account of the Plains Indian Wars and decline of the tribes. The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West 1840-60, by John D. Unruh, Jr. (University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 1982; $8.95), is a fascinating overview of the wagon-train experience from 1840 to 1860, covering all the major trails. It paints a detailed picture of pioneer life. The Wake of the Prairie Schooner, by Irene D. Paden (The Patrice Press, Gerald, Mo., 1985; $8.95), a reissue of a 1943 book, retraces the remnants of the Oregon Trail, with flashbacks of pioneers' experiences along the way. David Lavender's Westward Visions: The Story of the Oregon Trail (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1985; $9.95) helps put the trail's significance in historical perspective. A reissue of an early nature guide is The Prairie World, by David Costello (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1981; $9.95). A more modern and extremely thorough field guide is Grassland, an Audubon Society Nature Guide, by Lauren Brown (Knopf, New York, 1985; $14.95). Its photographs and illustrations help you identify grasslands plants and animals. Some classic novels came out of the plains experience. Several that might enhance your trip are Willa Cather's My Antonia, a number of titles by Mari Sandoz (including Love Song to the Plains), and A.B. Guthrie's The Way West. Younger readers will enjoy Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series.
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|Date:||Jun 1, 1988|
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