Francis Parkman

In the Spring of 1846, Francis Parkman made a “tour of curiosity and amusement to the Rockey Mountains” by way of the Oregon Trail. It is much to be regretted that Mr. Parkman was not actuated by more serious motives, for the record he left of his tour, while always popular, had no great historical value. His party was formed at Westport, and on his way he passed the Shawnee Mission. There Parkman saw Joseph Parks, a Shawnee chief, and notes that this savage ruler had a trading establishment at Westport, conducted an extensive farm, and owned “a considerable number of slaves.” The Kansas River was first seen at the Lower Delaware Crossing, where the party passed over it on rafts, after camping a night on the south bank. This was the crossing of the old Military Road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Scott and Fort Gibson.

Parkman made a brief stop at Fort Leavenworth, and on the 23d of May set forth on the branch of the trail leading from that fort to Fort Laramie. No date is given to show when he reached the Big Blue River, but a detailed description of its crossing is set down. The book containing the account of the tour is very loosely and carelessly written. The date of May 23d is given as the time of leaving Fort Leavenworth, also as the time of coming into the “St. Joseph Trail”—something which never did exist—after having crossed the Big Blue.

Parkman’s observations on the conditions along the Oregon Trail at that day are sometimes of value. He notes that Illinois and Missouri furnished by far the greater number of emigrants of that period. They were numerous, and some were bound for Oregon and some for California. At Independence, Missouri, they had heard that several parties of Mormons were about to start from St. Joseph. This caused uneasiness, for the people of both Missouri and Illinois were on bad terms with the Mormons. But these rumors proved to be unfounded.

Few particulars of the country and the Oregon Trail are given by Parkman, but many of his own experiences are recorded—in which the people of this day are little interested.

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