The Wagonmasters

Henry Pickering Walker, The Wagonmasters (1966)

The WagonmastersThis book is subtitled “High Plains Freighting from the Earliest Days of the Santa Fe Trail to 1880.” It is a fairly thorough account of freighting to the west, but for all its facts and figures, it’s not a very interesting one. In fact, the author seems so intent on showing just how important freighting was to the development of the country west of the Missouri, that the text is frequently interrupted by lists and rows and columns of items shipped and tonnage and cost and other similar correlations that would have been much better left in the footnotes.

Similarly, the author seems a little over-anxious lest his argument that freighting goods to an area where they could not be produced is somehow lost. The result is sometimes overwrought language, perhaps best shown in the closing of the book: “‘Manifest Destiny’ and ‘Westward the Course of Empire’ were ringing phrases, but it was the lowly wagon-freighter who carried the lifeblood of the great movements west.”

This book is often cited in other books of this period (at least the ones I’ve been reading), but by and large, I preferred the other authors’ use of the material in this book. It’s probably good to have as a resource in case I need to refer back to it later.