- Paperback: 472 pages
- Publisher: The Narrative Press (July 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1589761189
- ISBN-13: 978-1589761186
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,250,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What I Saw in California: By Wagon from Missouri to California in 1847-48 Paperback – July 1, 2001
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Edwin Bryant made the journey from Independence, Missouri to California in the years 1846-47, through the southern pass of the Rocky Mountains and across the desert. As a medical student, he became an unofficial doctor along the way, and witnessed some gruesome scenes, like the amputation of a little boy's gangrenous leg, which he describes in painful scientific detail. He is equally explicit when portraying the daily life of the wagon trip, and his prose illuminates the trials of the traveler:
"During the process of cooking supper, it commenced raining and blowing with great violence. Our fire was nearly extinguished by the deluge of water from the clouds, and our dough was almost turned to batter...We ate standing, with the rain falling, and our clothing completely saturated with water. Our oxen become entangled in the ropes by which we had secured them from straying during the night, and it was not without much labor and difficulty that they were released. Jacob and myself made our bed, or rather took shelter from the storm, among the boxes in our wagon; McKinstry and Brownell bivouacked under the wagon, and Curry and Nuttall under a large tree. The suspension of the fury of the storm lasted until about 2 o'clock in the morning, when the rain recommenced falling in torrents, accompanied by peals of crashing thunder and flashes of lightning so brilliant, as to illuminate the whole vault of the heavens. Notwithstanding all these inconveniences, we rested pretty well."
Bryant intended his work to function as both entertainment to the general reader and instruction for those planning to follow his path, and the book is a repository of useful information, like distances, weather, water source locations, and descriptions of plant life. As such, it is invaluable to enthusiasts of Western history. It is also a really good story, with entertaining sketches of camp life, Indians, and animals. Bryant's descriptions of the landscapes are particularly compelling:
"The vast prairie itself soon opened before us in all its grandeur and beauty...The view of the illimitable succession of green undulations and flowery slopes, of every gentle and graceful configuration, stretching away and away, until they fade from the sight in the dim distance, creates a wild and scarcely controllable ecstasy of admiration. I felt, I doubt not, some of the emotions natural to the aboriginal inhabitants of these boundless and picturesque plains, when roving with unrestrained freedom over them; and careless alike of the past and the future, luxuriating in the blooming wilderness of sweets which the Great Spirit had created for their enjoyment, and placed at their disposal."
The variety of Bryant's adventures is striking - in one day he is present at a death, a wedding, a funeral, and a birth. He is often nearly overwhelmed by the functions of nature going on around him, and is particularly moved by the continuous presence of death:
"One of our party who left the train to hunt through the valley, brought into camp this evening a human skull. He stated that the place where he found it was whitened with human bones. Doubtless this spot was the scene of some Indian massacre, or a battle-field where hostile tribes had met and destroyed each other. I could learn no explanatory tradition; but the tragedy, whatever its occasion, occurred many years ago. The bones of buffalo, whitened by the action of the atmosphere, are seen every few yards...but none of the animals have yet been discovered. It is probable that the large number of emigrants who have preceded us, have driven the few buffaloes which descend the Platte so low as this, into the hills. The bleaching skeletons of these animals are strewn over the plain on all sides, ghastly witnesses deposited here, of a retreating and fast perishing race."
What I Saw in California is the classic yet remarkable adventure of a young man heading west, well-written and full of historically useful information.
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But this product as received is almost unreadable. Literally.
This is a LARGE format paperback, measuring 8.5 x 11. Now that I've received the book, I see that point is mentioned in the product description, but overlooked by me before I hit "Add to Cart." But the size I could have lived with.
It's when you open the book that the real problem arises. The text, printed in very a thin, non-proportional typewriter font, flows all the way across the 8.5 inch page. Think of a very tightly spaced manuscript or screenplay from the 1950's, 138 pages long, where the typewriter ribbon is well beyond needing replacement. It's a sea of very light gray. My eyes hurt just thinking about it.
I thank the publisher for wanting to reprint this esteemed title, but with so many inexpensive desktop publishing programs available, there's no excuse for a product of this quality.
So now I'll go back and find a used hardcover. I still want to read this book.
"What I Saw in California" is a stirring reminder of the courage, spirit, and fierce independence of those who forged a great nation.
Frank Allan Rogers, author Upon A Crazy Horse
First off, there are a number of typos due to the OCR process of processing this book for a new typesetting. In other words, there are well-spelled, but inappropriate, words every page or two. Usually you can figure out what the intended word was. Also, the PDF for this is readily and freely available so you can consult that, but I never had to. This is a common problem with books published by Narrative Press. Some of their books are a lot worse in the respect than this one.
As for the material, the first half is fairly enjoyable reading about the journey from Missouri to California even though Bryant is an unusually pompous person. The account of the journey is continually marred by his gushing about how sublime the experience is in certain places and by continually insisting that all the rock formations he sees remind him of grand architectural structures in ruins. He continually makes allusions to classic culture, the Greeks and Romans, to remind us what an highly classy and educated person he is.
The second half, after he reaches California, is almost unreadable. I have to wonder why I even bothered to read it all the way through. It is so dull, pompous and officious. Most of the second half is devoted to describing in minute detail the 2 or 3 minor military skirmishes that occurred as part of the US annexation of the territory. So noble, manly and glorious, of course.
As for the leg-amputation incident cited in the book's write-up, there isn't much to it. The young boy is almost dead from gangrene when the amputation is started and he dies before it's completed. If you want grisly details, there's quite a long section in the middle detailing all the gory cannibalistic goings on that occurred during the famous Donner Party tragedy. I had never really read that much about this before and found it mildly interesting, but I read these books for the story of the journey, not for sensational thrills.