Life,  Reading

The Oregon Trail: A Window to Frontier America’s Forest Dramas

In April 1846, St. Louis, a major trading town west of the Mississippi River, was extremely busy. Gathering here, in addition to those businessmen who regularly go to Santa Fe to do business in late spring every year, there are also many strangers from all over the East Coast who are planning to move to California and Oregon. There are only muddy and potholed grasslands and difficult and dangerous mountains ahead. St. Louis, located at the confluence of the Mississippi River and the Missouri River, is the last large town where white colonists live. The town’s inns were full; the shops were bustling, and artisans worked day and night creating guns and saddlery, essential equipment for the bustling passers-by. The Radnor is one of several steamships that leave the docks every day, chug, chug, and chug westward on the Missouri River, sending crowded passengers to the frontier they dream of.

The Radnor set sail on April 28. The ship with a displacement of 163 tons had a very deep draft that day, and the turbid river flowed over the ship’s sides. Because St. Louis had many passengers and few ships, all merchant ships set off with a full load, and the “Radnor” was no exception. On the upper deck were several large wagons, custom-made for the merchants going to Santa Fe; tools and bridles, and a large number of wooden boxes and barrels. The steerage had only seats and was packed with cash-strapped travelers, including Oregon immigrants, Rocky Mountain pioneers, black slaves, and a group of Kansas natives who had visited St. Louis. The high-class cabin is composed of independent compartments, and the passengers are relatively wealthy, including those Santa Fe businessmen, gamblers and speculators, and all kinds of adventurers—such as Francis Parkman.

Parkman, then 23, was neither a businessman heading to Santa Fe nor an immigrant heading to Oregon; he was traveling to the Rocky Mountains for recuperation and hunting. A New England fellow of Emerson and Thoreau, he was also a graduate of Harvard College. Since his family belonged to the so-called “Boston Brahmins”, he did not become a pastor like Emerson or work like Thoreau after graduation, but went to law school for further study. But being a lawyer was his father’s expectation, and his own interest was to study the history of the North American continent before the emergence of the United States, and this interest was mainly influenced by two factors.

When Pacman was a child, Boston had already begun to industrialize. The urban area was densely populated, but the sanitation, fire protection and other infrastructure were not perfect. Like London and Paris, there were piles of garbage in the streets and alleys, and the feces and water flowed across the streets, which tested the immunity of residents. Therefore, at the age of 8, Parkman, who was frail and sick since childhood, was sent to a suburban farm to live with his maternal grandparents and single uncle, and he did not return to his parents until he was 13 years old. During these unfettered years, he often went to play in the forest near the farm and developed a love for nature. On the other hand, Parkman’s teenage years coincided with the reign of James Fenimore Cooper in American literature, and novels such as “The Last of the Mohicans” gave him a keen interest in indigenous peoples. Affected by these two factors, Parkman set up a lifelong ideal as early as his adolescence: to study the history of the white colonists from Europe competing for the North American continent in the early years, as well as the history of many aboriginal tribes, in order to write these “forest dramas” (forest drama).

Before the arrival of white European colonists, the forest coverage rate in North America was as high as 46%. Except for the Great Plains between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, and the desert west of the Rocky Mountains, other places were full of lush and dense forests, especially east of the Mississippi River. zone. Even as late as 1796, two centuries after white colonists ravaged North America, the French naturalist Volney marveled at the lush forests of the east. He set out from the mouth of the Delaware River, passed through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky, then went north to Detroit, and finally crossed Lake Erie to Niagara and Albany. mile. It is appropriate for Parkman to refer to the early history of white European colonization of North America as “forest drama”.

Forests have played a vital role in the operation and development of human society. Until the end of the 19th century, people’s houses, utensils for daily use, and the energy required for heating, cooking, and smelting all relied mainly on wood, and wood’s The only source is the forest. The Chinese language has preserved this historical message well: to this day, we still refer to all raw materials that can be used to make things as “materials”. Due to over-harvesting, forest resources in Europe were quite scarce by the middle ages, especially Britain, which was isolated overseas, and even the masts had to be imported from the Baltic countries. The rich forest resources in the New World made the colonists from the Old World a treasure. In 1621, the following year after the “Mayflower” arrived in North America, a ship named “Lucky” returned to England, and the ship was full of planks. In addition to deforestation and transporting back to Europe, white colonists also set fire to forests, turning huge amounts of forest land into pastures or farmland. Hundreds of years of depletion have done great damage to North American forests, especially in New England; records in the early 19th century show that the 240 miles from New York to Boston, the forest along the way added up to less than 20 miles, and Volney in the late 18th century. The experience formed a sharp contrast.

Along with the disappearance of the forest are the local aborigines. During the Revolution, a number of Native American tribes allied with George Washington’s Continental Army and played a major role in the emergence of the United States. However, after Washington took office as president, he adopted a deadly attitude towards the aborigines and refused to grant them American citizenship. In order to let the white people occupy as much land as possible, the successive federal governments killed the aborigines who lived in the area through various policies and bloody wars. residents, leading to a sharp decline in their population. How many aborigines lived in the North American continent before the white colonists set foot? Due to the lack of reliable evidence, the academic circle has always been inconclusive. The most estimated number is 18 million, and the most widely recognized figure is between 5 million and 7 million. But by the middle of the 19th century, the aborigines east of the Mississippi River had completely disappeared, and the number of aborigines registered in the seventh U.S. census in 1850 was only 907. The U.S. Constitution stipulates that a census be conducted every ten years in order to determine the seats of congressmen in each state, but it also specifies that “indians who have not paid taxes” shall not be included in the statistics, so the previous six censuses did not have data on aborigines. The “Seventh Census” in 1850 first tried to include them in the statistical table. There must be omissions in the data, but it is enough to prove that the natives of eastern North America, as Francis Parkman said, “suffered the last catastrophe”. Therefore, in the spring of 1846, Parkman, who had graduated from Harvard Law School, decided to go to the Rocky Mountains to find surviving forests and aborigines in remote frontiers in order to better write his “forest drama”.

On March 28 of that year, Parkman took a carriage from Boston to Pittsburgh, changed to a steamship from the local area, went westward along the Ohio River, entered the Mississippi River and then went upstream. According to the prior agreement, he arrived at St. Louis and his Cousin Quincy Shaw met, took two entourages hired from the local area, and sat in the premium cabin of the “Radnor” on April 28. The steamship, which had only been in the water for two years, sailed up the Mississippi River for about 20 miles, and braved the misty drizzle to the mouth of the Missouri River, turning westward into the raging river.

The Missouri River is 2,341 miles long and originates in the southwestern mountains of Montana. It is the largest tributary of the Mississippi River and the only way for white colonists to travel from eastern North America to the Pacific Ocean in the early years. On June 20, 1803, shortly after the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, then-President Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to his confidant, Captain Meriwether Lewis, ordering the latter to lead a team to explore the Missouri River in search of a route to the Pacific Ocean. suitable route. In May of the following year, Lewis and his colleague William Clark set off westward along the Missouri River, crossed the Rocky Mountains, passed the Columbia River to the Pacific coast, and returned to St. Louis on September 23, 1806. Since then, the Missouri River has become the main channel of the American fur trade.

But before the Americans blocked the river and built dams at the end of the 19th century, the Missouri River was similar to the ancient Yellow River. It was often diverted, and the annual sediment load was as high as 290 million tons. It was nicknamed the “Big Muddy” (Big Muddy). The turbulent and turbulent Missouri River is not an ideal channel. People can’t see the underwater rocks, dead trees or sandbars at all, and ships are prone to run aground or capsize. The Lewis and Clark expedition used a keel boat less than 17 meters long and two canoes about 12 meters long; although they are small and flexible, they can only be sailed on a few gentle river sections when the wind direction is suitable To move forward, paddling or towing is required most of the time. After 1810, with the popularity of commercial steamships, white Americans gradually colonized westward along the Missouri River, but the progress was very slow because this waterway was too dangerous, especially in the middle and upper reaches. In 1819, a convoy of five steamships attempted to retrace the old Lewis and Clark route, sailing from St. Louis to Council Bluff, and only one ship reached its destination. Fixed lines did not advance to Westport (now Kansas City) until 1830, and continued to do so in 1846.

By 1846, there were as many as 1,190 steamships sailing the Mississippi River, the Missouri River and their many tributaries, and the “Radnor” was just one of them. After eight days of voyage, the “Radnor” finally arrived in Westport Town and bid farewell to Francis Parkman forever, because when Parkman finished his westward journey and returned to St. The steamboat costing as much as 6,000 U.S. dollars has already sunk into the sinister Missouri River.

The town of Westport is on the south bank of the Missouri River, and along with the town of Independence in the east, it was the starting point for white Americans to march to the Rocky Mountains. There are two land routes: one goes southwest to Mexico and is called the Santa Fe Trail; the other goes northwest to Oregon and is called the Oregon Trail. It is also called the Oregon and California Trail because it can continue to California from Oregon. Francis Parkman, Quincy Shaw and others stayed in Xibu Town for seven or eight days. On the one hand, they visited the adjacent aboriginal villages, and on the other hand, they made final preparations for the journey; The river is more than anything. They got acquainted in the town with a British officer who was leading a hunting team to the west. The two agreed to meet at Fort Leavenworth (Fort Leavenworth), 40 miles away, and then travel westward together. On May 14 of that year, four people and eight mules and horses set foot on the Oregon Trail.

The Oregon Trail passes through the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains successively, and ends at Oregon City. It is 2,170 miles long and was the only land route for white Americans to go to the Pacific coast before the first railroad running through the North American continent opened in 1869. The area between the northern section of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, with the insurmountable peaks in the east and the vast Pacific Ocean in the west, was not colonized until the early 19th century, although the local aborigines began to trade fur with European whites in the 17th century . After Lewis and Clark explored the passage across the Rocky Mountains, more white people went to the local area to do business, and the US government, which had tasted the sweetness of the Louisiana Purchase, also had an unreasonable desire to look forward to Sichuan.

But it is not only the United States that covets this fertile land, but Russia, which occupies Alaska, Spain, which dominates the southwestern part of the mainland, and Britain, which controls the northern part of the mainland, are also coveting. In 1819, the United States and Spain signed the “Treaty of Florida.” Spain recognized the United States’ claim to the Oregon region and drew the border between the two sides at the 42nd parallel north latitude; five years later, the United States and Russia reached an agreement in St. 54.40 degrees is the boundary. With Spain and Russia out of the way, competition for this area is mainly a matter between Britain and the United States. The former put it under the so-called District of Columbia, and the latter called it the Oregon Territory. The two parties agreed to shelve the dispute in 1818 and jointly develop it. Of course, just like the Louisiana deal between France and the United States, the natives were completely ignored by the white colonists in the process.

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