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Snowbound Hardcover – March 2, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Six-time Spur Award–winner Wheeler takes on the charismatic, unpredictable, and enigmatic 19th-century explorer John Frémont in this rich if overstuffed survival tale. The story begins in 1847 with Frémont losing a court-martial for mutiny and disobedience, but Frémont isn't down for long: his senator father-in-law gets Frémont set up to conduct a survey for a proposed railroad line connecting St. Louis and San Francisco. A revolving cast of narrators—Frémont, other historical figures, and fictional characters—chronicle the expedition into the Colorado mountains as winter begins, and it becomes apparent that they are falling behind schedule and are ever closer to starvation or freezing to death. Wheeler skillfully depicts the extreme conditions (King was gaunt and drawn, the flesh gone from his face, his eyes sunk in pits.... Williams had crawled inside himself. There were great icicles hanging from his beard), though the attentions of many narrators can tend toward the redundant and slow down what is otherwise a dramatic and colorful epic that should hook even those who already know how everything turns out. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

John Charles Fremont (1813–90), the mathematics teacher, military man, presidential candidate, and explorer, lived a storied life. In this novel, Wheeler focuses on Fremont’s fourth expedition to forge a railway route along the thirty-eighth parallel, connecting St. Louis with San Francisco. Wheeler, who notes that accounts of Fremont’s life vary greatly, portrays the explorer as a deeply contradictory man: courageous but self-centered; remote but highly respected; reckless but methodical. Fremont’s fourth expedition was his most disastrous (several members of his team died), and Wheeler’s decision to concentrate on it, rather than an episode from Fremont’s military or political career, makes perfect sense: it allows the author to show us the man in all his mercurial glory, the famed explorer who will risk everything, including his own life, to break new ground. Good reading both for western-genre fans and readers of historical fiction. --David Pitt

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Forge Books; First Edition edition (March 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765316625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765316622
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,496,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Wheeler began a late-in-life career as a novelist in his forties, and by his eightieth year had written over eighty novels, some under pseudonyms. He began life as a newsman and later became a book editor, but turned to fiction full time in 1985.

He started by writing traditional westerns but soon was writing large-scale historical novels and then biographical novels. In recent years he has been writing mysteries as well, some as Axel Brand. His Lieutenant Joe Sonntag series occurs in 1940s Milwaukee, and focuses on life in a big, smoky industrial city just after World War Two.

He has won numerous awards, including the Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement in the literature of the American West, and also six Spur Awards from Western Writers of America.

He grew up in Wisconsin and migrated West, holding newspaper jobs in Phoenix, Oakland, Carson City, and Billings. His late wife, Sue Hart, was an English professor at Montana State University in Billings.

He has been focusing more and more on biographical novels. One of these, published in March, 2010, is called Snowbound, and is about the explorer John C. Fremont's tragic fourth expedition. It won a Spur Award.

For a quarter of a century he's largely made his living from writing fiction. That reality astonishes him. He is still dreaming up new stories.

Note: There are other Richard Wheelers writing books. One is an historian of the Civil War, and another writes histories of the Marine Corps, and another is a social scientist. Richard S. Wheeler is the novelist.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jim Duggins, Ph.D. on January 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Author Richard S. Wheeler's book, SNOWBOUND, set in 1848-49. is the story of John C. Fremont's ill-fated Fourth Expedition to the western territories of America. Using the voices of members of his company of travelers, Wheeler presents the journey of some 100 men and 150 mules and half a dozen horses to trace the expedition's footsteps from Washington City to California allegedly to conduct scientific research, to prepare topographical maps, and to choose a route for a railroad to cross the continent, in particular the western mountains.
Wheeler has chosen a cross section of company members to report the progress of the journey. Their various points of view offer a great vehicle to inform the reader of an exploration which for its length and duration could otherwise become tedious reading. In addition, Fremont, often known as "Pathfinder" (for his self-flattering reports of previous explorations), is not a simple character to define.
A man proven to be devious, wholly self-interested and defiant of authority, Fremont had been court martialed and ejected from the military, but continues to use his former title. In the meantime, when "Colonel" Fremont was unable to ingratiate himself into the family of powerful Missouri Senator Benton, he eloped with his daughter, Jessie. The expedition group that leaves from Missouri is composed of Fremont's former exploring company and new men who join the company for the half-hearted "promise" of pay upon return. While such arrangements may seem strange to us today, it was not unusual for footloose men of the first half of the nineteenth century to join such loosely gathered parties under such conditions if only to "see the elephant," an adventurous lark.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on April 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Selected for this year's Spur Award for Short Novel, this is an account of John Charles Frémont's fourth expedition into the West, 1848-49. As portrayed by Wheeler, the man was an adventurer who seems to have required a devoted audience and a national stage on which to play out his adventures. His attempt to discover a route for a transcontinental railroad was little more than a stunt. He not only set out across the West's most forbidding mountain ranges, but he did it in the winter. Told repeatedly that such a trip was foolhardy, he simply refused to listen.

He seems to have been driven by a triumphant vision of himself arriving in California, having defied everyone's belief that it couldn't be done. Nothing short of that would satisfy him. By the middle of Wheeler's novel, that vision is beyond achieving. The entire expedition of 33 men is snowbound in the highest elevations of southern Colorado.

Blaming everyone but himself for failure to even reach the Continental Divide, Frémont sends for help. There begins the long disaster of retreat from the mountains as men perish one by one from cold and starvation. The book's achievement is its portrayal of the physical suffering of the men themselves and the growing psychic toll of their growing dread. When death finally comes to some, after the last shoe leather has been boiled, it is with a numbing surrender to exhaustion, cold, and despair. The novel is a harrowing testament to folly. Well deserving of this and any other awards.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Carolyn J. Miller on September 6, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an amazing story. I learned SO much about the TIMES AND CUSTOMS. I still just can't believe he made this journey in the dead of winter....didn't seem very smart. I am very glad to have read this story but it is tough to believe all they went through.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Richard S. Wheeler won a Spur Award for Best Western Short Novel for his 2010 novel Snowbound, and it was a well-earned, and deserving honor. SNOWBOUND is less Western and more historical. It chronicles John C. Fremont’s ill-fated fourth expedition, which was ostensibly to find a railroad route across the Rocky Mountains at the 38th Parallel between St. Louis and San Francisco.

The expedition was privately funded by a group of St. Louis businessmen—with the support of Fremont’s senator father-in-law Thomas Benton—and while its claimed purpose was to find a railroad route its true purpose was to rehabilitate Fremont’s public reputation after his court-martial, and ultimate resignation from the United States Army. The route crossed the high and rugged spine of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where a railroad passage was unlikely at best, and, to prove something to his detractors, it was attempted in winter.

SNOWBOUND is effectively told in an alternating first person narrative. The narrative perspective changes from chapter to chapter. It is told in the words of several characters, including Fremont, and several of the expedition members—Dr. Benjamin Kern, Alexis Godey, its lead scout Old Bill Williams, and others. It reads much like a diary—the dialogue is minimal, and the story is primarily told with the internal observations of the narrating characters. It is, through the horror of the failed expedition, a character study of John Charles Fremont. Fremont is presented as an enigma. He is narcissistic, admired—idolized, really—complicated, and, in the end, loathed by some.
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