Exploring Oregon-California Trails was almost as much of a trial to find as to read, and reading it was a slog. A friend recommended it. I went to Amazon. Couldn’t find the title, though I found something like it. E-mailed my friend. Is this it? Nope. Ordered it anyhow. Scanned it and sent a picture. Yep, that’s it, though the title and layout is different from his copy. All of this took much longer to do than to tell and engendered much more confusion.
Davis is a terrible writer, and his self-published book is full of mechanical problems. In the middle of my copy, you can find an extra copy of pp. 198-99 stuck in between 176-177 or thereabouts. He calls himself “your author” quite a lot. He supposes that “the reader will remember” something previous at least once per chapter. Occasionally, he’ll hint that “the reader will discover” something as yet undisclosed. He has a penchant for referring to his subjects by their full names and titles every time he mentions them. “Chief Factor Peter Skein Ogden,” for example will appear by that appellation in successive paragraph after successive paragraph. He repeats narrative verbatim, sometimes within a page or two. His organization is suspect.It’s’s as if he piled roughly categorized notes on his desk then copied them into the text as he came to them rather than by chronology.
All complaints aside, though, there’s no more useful book in the world than this one for someone interested in the early history of these two states. We start in the 1820’s with Jedediah Smith trapping his way through the Rockies and into British territory, intent on building a beaver trapping empire to rival Hudson’s Bay. Hudson’s Bay, jealous of its territory, decides to annihilate all beaver south of its stronghold at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. By this method, they hope to discourage all American interest in the territories west of the Rockies, assuming that beaver would be the only possible motive Americans could have for wandering the area.
This tussle is the through-line for the many expeditions from Vancouver down through what becomes Washington, Oregon, and California, all the way to the Colorado River. Never had I heard it suggested that Hudson’s Bay’s influence and activity extended so far. My Canadian son-in-law was similarly ignorant. I grew up here and have traveled all over the place, but never had I heard it suggested that all of northern California was a beaver haven. Get this. There was a trading post on Yerba Buena Island. Founded in 1836. It sold out to, you guessed it, Hudson’s Bay, in 1841. Hudson’s and San Francisco Bay merged. Indians from Walla Walla traveled all the way south to prey on their California brethren. People drove cattle and horses–herds numbering over 300–over the Trinity Alps, for god’s sake.
By the time we finish Davis’ account of all this–Fremont’s third expedition in 1846–the north-south area from Vancouver to Monterey seems to be almost a freeway horde of Indians, trappers, settlers, Californios, & on and on.
My buddy and I are both grateful to Davis for his work. Scattered though the facts and stories are, it’s hard to discount their authenticity. He’s scrupulous about locations, landmarks, latitudes and longitudes, and a draws from real trail diaries and journals. So, thank you, Charley. Hard as your book is to read–it took me months, with many time-outs. I’m not as tough as those mountain men–I know it’s something I’ll return to time and again for info. Even though you don’t mention Mt. Lassen anywhere. What’s up with that?