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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent storytelling - and all true
The best historical writing combines the quality of scholarship with that of literature, and that's what we have here. First published in 1947, this book is a deserved classic. It's the story of the Rocky Mountain fur trade in the latter half of the 1830s, a time of outrageous characters and extraordinary deeds, set against the finest landscape. DeVoto resolutely...
Published on December 3, 1998

versus
9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Detailed catalog of names/dates/locations--not a good read!
If you are doing historical research you will love this book. It is an extensive listing of names, locations and dates. However, I'm not sure what the point is of knowing that so-and-so was at xxx creek on a certain day. I would have liked more insight on individuals, more character development, a better understanding of what their lives and daily challenges were...
Published on May 14, 2002


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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent storytelling - and all true, December 3, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Across the Wide Missouri (Paperback)
The best historical writing combines the quality of scholarship with that of literature, and that's what we have here. First published in 1947, this book is a deserved classic. It's the story of the Rocky Mountain fur trade in the latter half of the 1830s, a time of outrageous characters and extraordinary deeds, set against the finest landscape. DeVoto resolutely refuses to judge people of the 1830s by the standards of a later century. This is what infuriates the "politically correct". But DeVoto is surely right - any other approach might tell you something about the historian's own time but would shed little light on the period under study. Instead DeVoto's honesty brings his characters vividly to life. That doesn't only mean the fur trappers. He has a detailed and discerning knowledge of the Plains Indians, and appreciates the cultural, linguistic and indeed political diversity of the various nations. The Native Americans emerge as striking individuals in their own right. The book has been called romantic. Well, DeVoto is certainly keenly aware of the romantic quality of his epic tale, but he doesn't romanticize things. He's much too good a historian to make unprovable assertions. Always he has the evidence to hand, and if he repeats a tall tale, it's only for the pleasure of the telling and he's careful to point out when the source can't be trusted. His depth of research combined with a keen eye for the relevant detail make for a highly readable result. What all this adds up to is an elegy for two lost ways of life - that of the fur trappers and that of the Plains Indians, who managed to be friends and enemies at the same time. But both were swept away by outside forces that were huge and irresistable - Manifest Destiny as it was called, and its expression in the great migration to the West starting in the 1840s. Reading this book is like listening to an old friend telling great tales by the campfire on a warm evening. Fine work indeed.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wagh!, June 27, 2005
By 
William R. Strouse (colorado springs, co United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Across the Wide Missouri (Paperback)
Across the Wide Missouri

Mr. DeVoto has a passion for this subject and a passion for the characters that live in it.

Here are some excerpts from the book:

"There were few delicate feeders in the mountains...The river tribes liked the green, putrid flesh of buffalo drowned while crossing the ice and hauled ashore weeks later, `so ripe, so tender, that very little boiling is required.' They ate the kidneys raw... the white man would eat the liver raw as soon as it was taken; he seasoned it with the gall or sometimes with gunpowder...he had no more tableware than his belt knife - gravy, juices and blood running down his face, forearms and shirt. He wolfed the meat and never reached repletion. Eight pounds a day was standard ration for Hudson Bay employees [but often eat twice that amount]...melted fat was gulped by the pint. Kidney fat could be drunk without limit...Hump and boss boil in a kettle, cracked marrow bones sizzle by the fire...Camp is pitched by a small creek or a rushing mountain river...Here is the winesap air of the high places, the clear, green sky of evening fading to a dark that brings the stars within arm's length, the cottonwoods along the creek rustling in the wind. The smell of meat has brought wolves and coyotes almost to the circle of firelight. They skulk just beyond it; sometimes a spurt of flame will turn will turn their eyes to gold...Horses and mules crop the bunch grass at the end of their lariats or browse on leaves along the creek. The firelight flares and fades in the wind's rhythm on the faces of men in whose minds are the vistas and the annuls of the entire West."

If you are yearning for a dry narrative of the fur trade, this is not your book. This book gives you a feel for the land and a feel for the kinds of men involved in the fur trade. It gives you a feel for the hardships that they faced, the cutthroat business practices of the trade and how instrumental these men were to opening up the west for settlement. He does not sanitize history or historical figures. He presents the good and the bad of both the individual fur traders and the various Indian tribes that were most closely linked to the fur trade.

As it turns out, this is not a simple story to tell or to organize into a linear narrative. There were many different characters and crosscurrents cutting through the entire period. He weaves this story together with the sinew provided by the movements of a few of the most important mountain men: Jim Bridger, Tom Fitzpatrick, Joe Meek, Bill and Milton Sublette and Kit Carson.

He runs another colorful thread through the story made of missionaries. These are clearly the most foolish, most spiteful and most disagreeable people in the narrative. Some of them are also the most well-intentioned and tragic characters in the grand story. Of the missionaries' desire to convert the Nez Perce and Flathead Indians to Christianity, he says, "[Nez Perce] were superior Indians, they made no trouble, they liked and admired white men...Their desire for instruction in the mysteries was genuine and paramount, as clean as the desire of these Christians to give them what they wanted. Both desires were simple and altogether hopeless...The Indians receiving instruction were men of the age of polished stone...They tried, both Indians and whites. There they stood, the seekers and the bearers of truth...the sincerity of these Indians' desire for religious instruction could not be doubted." And yet this first wave of missionaries met with frustration, failure and murder.

But the primary and repeated organizational thread that runs through this story is a fascinating and completely unlikely man named William Drummond Stewart. This man won the respect and deep friendship of all the great mountain men. He was kind, generous and good humored. Captain William Drummond Stewart of the British Army "was in his thirty-seventh year. He was the brother of Sir John Archibald Stewart, eighteenth of Grandtully and sixth baronet, and was next in succession to him...He went through the Hundred days with his regiment and fought at Waterloo." He traveled the prairies and the mountains in comfort, elegance and style. He was as tough, as adventurous and as skillful as any of the mountain men. Yet there was not even a hint of royal superiority about him.

Mr. DeVoto is a magnificent writer. If you are looking for an outstanding overview of the fur trade, this is your book. He also provides fascinating notes in the appendix and an extensive bibliography for those who are interested in further reading.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a classic of American history writing, November 16, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Across the Wide Missouri (Paperback)
Bernard Devoto wrote before the mavens of political correctness had the power to harm honest research and writing, so it is to be expected that some contemporary readers would be hurt and confused by his frank and realistic depiction of the west of the fur trappers. Devoto spent years researching this classic, then presented his findings in polished prose that evoked the period and the wild life of his subjects. This, like all of his historical works, is worth reading more than once.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a terrific book, March 23, 1998
By 
jerryc@shentel.net (Winchester, Virginia) - See all my reviews
A very romantic view of the subject by a master wordsmith. Reading, no, experiencing this book affected me very deeply, and I have since delved deeply into DeVoto's writing and his life. The reviewer who found this book to be poorly written has greatly different standards than do I, because this writer thinks it is a gorgeous book. I am fortunate to possess a first edition with many of the color paintings, captions for wich were the original purpose of the project. A must for anyone who wants to truly feel the early western experience.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History the way you've never read it., September 13, 2010
This review is from: Across the Wide Missouri (Paperback)
I first heard of Bernard DeVoto while reading Wallace Stegner. If Stegner liked him, I thought, he must be worth reading. That turned out to be an understatement. DeVoto may be the greatest historian and man of letters this country has ever produced, and it's hard for me to believe that I came to such a ripe age before reading him. Of his great American trilogy, Across the Wide Missouri was the most enjoyable to me, simply because it tells the story of the Mountain Men, the trappers and fur traders, which I've always found interesting. He writes with the authority and panache of a great scholar, one who has researched his subject completely and relies only on first hand accounts, and transmits the knowledge he has gained as only the best of teachers can. Across the Wide Missouri is an enormous work that I will never forget, it reads like the best potboiler, and along with DeVoto's other works, has added immeasurably to my understanding of American history and my appreciation of great writers.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the one that got me going, July 16, 2001
By 
William J Higgins III (Laramie, Wyoming United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Across the Wide Missouri (Paperback)
Whereas Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage" got me interested in the early exploration of the American West, "Across the Wide Missouri" got me interested in the actual lives of the mountain man and fur trapper/traders, and how they also explored unknown regions of the west. Their day to day existence and survival amongst the Indians, dealing with the forces of nature, the early stages of Manifest Destiny, etc. were all to me mind boggling. DeVoto brings to life the fur trade at the peak of its industry. I must agree with a couple reviewers though on how the text does get somewhat wordy and complex, the list of characters involved is quite lengthy and one is always flipping back and forth to the maps and notes. But this is what it takes to tell the whole story. From his bibliography one can pick and choose which books are of interest to the reader and take it from there, that's what I have done. I would recommend this book to those of you that are interested in this time period.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars greatest, December 15, 2012
This review is from: Across the Wide Missouri (Paperback)
This the greatest book written on this subject.
Perhaps the problem with most of the reviewers is they
read the paperback. The hardback book that contains
the story of the Miller collection and includes the
pictures is a great book. Many of the pictures
from the book are in the museum in Cody, Wyoming.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars De Voto's celebrated work on the Fur Trade era, January 25, 2013
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This review is from: Across the Wide Missouri (Paperback)
I first read this book which I borrowed from my local Library about forty years ago, and I borrowed it again and again. I reckon I have read it about 15 times over the years!! Very well written with humour and knowledge. However some may be put off by the almost anecdotal and "folksy" style. The original hardback had the wonderful drawings and by Bodmer and Alfred Miller. These are sadly not reproduced in this edition, which was disappointing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Greatest, December 15, 2012
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Greatest book ever written on this subject, prize winner.
Central years of the fur trade with all the important
figures. Also get:
Rocky Mountain Rendezvous-Fred Gowan
Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri-Charles Larpenteur
Rocky Mountain Life- Rufus B. Sage
Life in the Far West- George Frederick Ruxton
Journal of a Trapper- Osborne Russell
Narrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River
by John Kirk Townsend
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Densely Detailed Account Energized by a Lively, Robust Voice, November 2, 2009
By 
Ms. Original (Los Angeles, California, US) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Across the Wide Missouri (Paperback)
Bernard De Voto's meticulously detailed account of the last days of the fur trade reveal the lives of the sometimes inspired, often desperate, original survivors, not the faux survivors we now watch on "reality" TV. Drawing largely from journals and records of the traders -- and noting spots where he doubts their credibility -- De Voto creates a compelling picture of the goings-on between the fur men and various native Plains tribes, a relationship that in many respects confounds our current understanding. It seems it was more varied and complex then we've been led to believe. Sometimes an uneasy friendship and respect prevailed, sometimes murder, but often it seemed both native peoples and fur traders were striving to exploit each other for all they could get. Most particularly he distinguishes between the tribes, their customs and proclivities. Clearly a fur trader's survival often depended on his ability to understand these differences. But De Voto's over-arching story of survival -- and, ultimately, defeat -- involves the brutal competition between the fur companies as each attempts to rule the trade. De Voto's voice is smart, robust, sometimes quite humorous. (Watch for irony.) However, coming to us from an age before the Civil Rights Movement, before the Women's Movement, the author does not share the benefits of our deeper, subtler understanding. That's the bad news. On the good side, he writes without self-censorship, uncurtailed by the obedience contemporary historians must show to the various academic conventions of our era.
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Across the Wide Missouri
Across the Wide Missouri by Bernard Augustine De Voto (Paperback - September 1, 1998)
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