536 pp. 23 illus; 20 maps
Emigrants on the Overland Trail
The Wagon Trains of 1848
Presenting the “lost” year of the overland emigrants in 1848, this volume sheds light on the journey of the men, women, children, and the wagon trains that made the challenging trek from Missouri to Oregon and California. These primary sources written by seven men and women diarists from different wagon companies, tell how settlers endured the tribulations of a five-month westward journey covering 2,000 miles. These intrepid souls include a young mother, a French priest, a college-educated teacher, and an ox driver. Subjected to the extremes of fear, failure, suffering, and hope, they persevered and finally triumphed.
Tapping into newly discovered archival sources, Michael LaSalle enriches our understanding of the westward movement through his painstaking reconstruction of the experiences of eighteen wagon trains that took to the Oregon and California Trails in 1848. Richly illustrated with photographs, artwork, and maps, his narrative weaves the various “voices” of these pioneer reporters into a compelling day-to-day trail experience that provides insight into this great American adventure.
—Willis M. Conover, Professor Emeritus, The University of Scranton
Emigrants on the Overland Trail takes a unique and fascinating approach to writing about westward emigration. Rather than just following one group of emigrants, Michael LaSalle follows all the wagon trains that headed west in 1848. As they struggle along each section of the trail, readers develop a thorough understanding of the physical and emotional challenges of the journey. We come to know and care about the successes of these pioneers. This is a “must read” for everyone interested in Overland Trail history.
—Lynda Paznokas, Professor Emeritus, Washington State University
Many writers of the westward migrations take a linear approach to trail history. They start at the jumping off places and carefully navigate the sturdy band of pioneers past the grand sights and through the trail’s tribulations to reach the Promised Land. Places once passed are no longer needed in the narrative. Time is considered only as a measure of how long it takes to get to the destination. Michael E. LaSalle goes beyond the singular uses of time and place. […] LaSalle demonstrates an understanding of the trail shared by very few. One feels that he cheated and went back in time to travel the trail himself. This book advances the way travel on the Oregon and California Trails can and should be viewed.
—Loren Pospisil, Nebraska State Historical Society, 2013
As a tireless researcher, dedicated trail hound, keen observer, and lively writer, retired attorney and practical historian Michael E. LaSalle provides an engaging and useful look at an extremely interesting year in the story of America’s overland wagon roads. His brisk narrative vividly evokes the landscape’s sounds, smells, and characters, and its landforms, rivers, canyons, desert basins, and ranges. His intimate grasp of the trails’ complex geography conveys where wagons went and why they went there.
—Western Historical Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 4, Winter 2012
The emigrants of 1848—deemed the lost year by many—have found their voice through Michael E. LaSalle's Emigrants on the Overland Trail: The Wagon Trains of1848. LaSalle pieces together the travels of eighteen distinct trains in 1848 through the writings of seven different emigrants, many of which have been previously unused. Despite the narrow focus on one year of trail travel, this book is an enjoyable overview about western migration prior to the California Gold Rush.
— Annals of Wyoming, Autumn 2012
Illustrations, Tables, and Maps
Just Five Months to Get There
St. Joseph, a Rising Star
Load the Wagons
The Talk Before the Walk
A Vast Green Sea
Independence, a Star in Decline
Through the Tallgrass Prairie
Black Beasts, Black Faces
Come, Come Ye Saints
The Babylon of the West
The Sweetness of the Sweetwater
Les Mauvaises Terres
The Great Trail Forked
Snaking Through Vulcan’s Workshop
Glory, Hallelujah, I Shall Die a Rich Man Yet!
The Heavenly Scent of Oregon Pine
Time to Pay the Gatekeeper
The End of the Journey
Michael E. LaSalle graduated from the University of California, Davis, School of Law. For the next forty years, he practiced law, farmed, and operated a dairy, often concurrently. He lives in Hanford, California, where he still farms and pursues his interest in tracking down Western history.