Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Newberry Library Part 2

This post is a continuation from last week detailing my recent visit to Chicago's Newberry Library. In the map room was a book of maps of the Oregon Trail. Having gone to graduate school in Lawrence, Kansas near the beginning of the trail, it caught my attention.

The full title is "Topographical Map of the Road From Missouri to Oregon Commencing at the Mouth of the Kansas in the Missouri River and Ending at the at the Mouth of the Wallah Wallah in the Columbia." Produced in 1846 (when the Oregon Treaty settled a boundary dispute with the U.K.) by order of the U.S. Senate, this map is from the field notes and journal of Captain John C. Fremont, and sketches and notes from his assistant Charles Preuss. There are seven sections, above is the first, easternmost section.

I like that Westport, now the place to go in Kansas City to see bands and watch drunk 20 year olds get into fights, was its own little village. Actually, it was probably a much rougher and rowdier place back then. This detailed view came from the David Rumsey Map Collection where you can see the full maps with much better clarity.

The sections feature charts of meteorological observations for sunrise, noon and sunset for each day of Fremont's expedition.These include the temperature, altitude, wind direction and brief weather descriptions such as "perfectly clear" or "occasional thunder and light."

The locations of the expedition for each day are shown on the map, along with "cyphers" listing the distance from Westport. Each section has notes in the corner that provide some good atmosphere and local color. These are from section 1:
This section abounds with grass, water and fuel so that emigrants may encamp almost anywhere.
Elk and deer, the only game, are very scarce.
Selected notes from the other sections provide lessons in geography and attitudes towards non-whites.
Game - Antelope and Buffalo, the latter in innumerable bands.

Timber is extremely scarce, except on the islands*. Some driftwood and buffalo excrement makes the fuel as that of the camels does in the deserts of Arabia.

Good guard ought to be kept. Pawnees, if they do not kill, will at least take what they can from the travellers [sic] by force if they are strong enough, and by stealth if too weak to act openly.

With this section** the prairie ends, and the barren sage (artemisia) country begins.

East and West of this section [section 3] more or less buffalo and antelopes, but 50 miles from Fort Laramie each way no game is to be found. Grass - is scanty and only occures [sic] on the banks of the rivers and creeks.

At Sweetwater River*** buffalo appear for the last time and emigrants should provide themselves with well dryed meat.

West of the Green River the traveller [sic] is considered out of danger, as the Snake Indians are considered friends of the whites. Property however should be guarded.

This is the most trying section**** for the traveller on the whole route. Water, though good and plenty is difficult to reach, as the river is hemmed in by high and vertical rocks and many of the by-streams are without water in the dry season. Grass is only to be found at the marked camping places and barely sufficient to keep strong animals from starvation. Game there is none. The road is very rough by volcanic rocks detrimental to wagons and carts. In sage bushes consists the only Fuel. Lucky that by all these hardships the traveller is not harassed by the Indians, who are peacable [sic] and harmless.
Of course, these notes also provided highly valuable information for emigrants heading west.
*     the islands of the Platte River
**   section 2 covering the area between 98 and 102 degrees west longitude along the Platte River. 
***  near the continental divide
**** section 6-along the Snake River between Fort Hall (north of Pocatello)  and Fort Boise in Idaho.

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