No self-respecting boy of the nineteenth century could pass up the opportunity for adventure. What could be better than crossing the American West in a wagon train? There were horses to ride, wild animals to hunt, rivers to cross, mountains to climb, and lots of other boys to befriend. There would be no school and little bathing. How hard could it be? In Into the Western Winds: Pioneer Boys Traveling the Overland Trails, author Mary Barmeyer O'Brien lets us know how hard.
In her compact book, author O'Brien tells us stories of eight boys who joined their families in crossing the continent between the 1840s and 1860s, before there were railroads to speed their journeys. Each of them either kept a journal or wrote a memoir about his experience. O'Brien identifies the resources and retells some of the best stories from each.
Readers will quickly realize how important the boys turned out to be to the success of their families' fortunes. They herded livestock, hunted, drove wagons, gathered firewood, and went for help in emergencies. Some were even left in the wild to guard family possessions when they were dropped to lighten wagon loads. Moses Schallenberger survived a winter alone in the high Sierras two years before the Donner Party was stuck there! All eight lived to become import men in their frontier communities.
At 107 pages, many readers can finish Into the Western Winds in a night or two. I enjoyed looking at the trail maps and old photographs. A trip out west to see western migration historic sites could be a lot of fun.
O'Brien, Mary Barmeyer. Into the Western Winds: Pioneer Boys Traveling the Overland Trails. Twodot, 2003. 107p. ISBN 0762710209.