Trail Narratives Celebrate Triumph

“But such exotica as Indians (exotic when not at war) and Mormons were not what Overland Trail stories were really about. What emerges is the danger, hardship, loneliness, and boredom of life in a cross-country caravan. The pioneer-narrators were not merely complaining about what they had to endure – hardly that at all. They were proclaiming, and with a justifiable pride, that they had overcome danger and hardship and had mastered loneliness and privation, and had struggled their way through to the end of the road. End-of-trail stories show this quite clearly. The wreckage of wagons, the litter of household goods, the quickly improvised gravestones by the trail’s side were not merely curiosities of the journey. They were statements that many had failed – either through death or discouragement – but that the writer had gone ahead and succeeded where those others had had to turn back or be buried. The Overland Trail narrative, one of the few genuinely American genres, celebrates a triumph over nature and adversity. In that way as well it is a genre of the American West.