This summer, you could pack the family up in a station wagon bound for The Cape, or Vineyard... Or, you could call your wacky brother, fly to Kansas City, buy a covered wagon -- and three unsuspecting mules, not to mention an ungodly amount of canned chili and other supplies -- and head West along the 2,100 mile Oregon Trail. An unforgettable adventure? Yes. And as a result, a book by one Rinker Buck.
This wasn't entirely out of the blue. Back when the author and his brother, Nick, were kids their father packed the family up in an Amish wagon with a sign on the back reading "See America Slowly" and meandered around Eastern Pennsylvania. (Just proves again: Apples don't fall that far from a tree.)
This delightful little narrative details what the Bucks did to hit The Trail. It sprinkles doses of historical perspective about the mass migration of wagons heading West in the mid 1800's. And then, invites you to enjoy their "reenactment" ride -- as they traced old wagon ruts still plainly visible along the way. Who knew The Peter Schuttler Wagon Works was Chicago's largest factory in 1850. Or that peak migration years -- like 1852 -- saw over 60,000 pioneers leave the Midwest for California and Oregon. The story of Ezra Meeker. Or a Pony Express rider named Jim Moore -- who survived one of the greatest endurance rides in history.
Face it, suspension systems on wagons were and still are butt awful. Today, The Trail is bisected with interstates and Walmart parking lots. Rinker's mules needed water every day. Painted over dry rot on wheels broke through out of nowhere. Yet the trail kept on. Rocky Ridge. California Hill. Cattle guards galore. Barbed wire fences. Surging streams. Irate land owners. Windlass Hill. Ash Hollow. Jail House Rock. A tipped over "Trail Pup". Hair-raising drops off mountain sides, littered with boulders and brush.
Readers can't avoid getting dirt in their shoes. Kinks in their shoulders from sleeping vicariously on bumpy and soggy ground. But for those who have lingered along a trail in nowhere Wyoming... smelling the sage, watching the sun dip over some badlands as everything turns brilliant red... a bit of Bierstadt tickles your imagination as you flip pages and wander your the way West.
The last documented crossing of The Oregon Trail was in 1909. What Rinker and Nick Buck did to do it again, was epic. Get ready for some gosh darn salty cursing between the two. And hold on, or you'll get bounced right out of the wagon. Just be glad you're probably able to read this on The Cape or Vineyard.
— From Bob's Book Talk
July 2015 Indie Next List
“Inspired by a family trip in a covered wagon in the 1950s, Rinker Buck and his brother Nick set out by wagon to discover what remains of the Oregon Trail between Missouri and Oregon. Along the way, readers learn about wagon design, mule heritage, and what pioneers needed to endure traveling west in the 19th century. This is also a moving personal story of brotherhood, endurance, and the kindness of strangers. Buck weaves fact, action, and reflection together into a page-turning delight that history buffs and fans of contemporary nonfiction will not want to miss.”
— Dick Hermans, Oblong Books And Music,LLC., Millerton, NY
#1 New York Times Bestseller * #1 Indie Next Pick "Absorbing...Winning...The many layers in The Oregon Trail are linked by Mr. Buck's voice, which is alert and unpretentious in a manner that put me in mind of Bill Bryson's comic tone in A Walk in the Woods." --Dwight Garner, The New York Times An epic account of traveling the length of the Oregon Trail the old-fashioned way--in a covered wagon with a team of mules, an audacious journey that hasn't been attempted in a century--which also chronicles the rich history of the trail, the people who made the migration, and its significance to the country. Spanning two thousand miles and traversing six states from Missouri to the Pacific coast, the Oregon Trail is the route that made America. In the fifteen years before the Civil War, when 400,000 pioneers used the trail to emigrate West--scholars still regard this as the largest land migration in history--it united the coasts, doubled the size of the country, and laid the groundwork for the railroads. Today, amazingly, the trail is all but forgotten. Rinker Buck is no stranger to grand adventures. His first travel narrative, Flight of Passage, was hailed by The New Yorker as "a funny, cocky gem of a book," and with The Oregon Trail he brings the most important route in American history back to glorious and vibrant life. Traveling from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Baker City, Oregon, over the course of four months, Buck is accompanied by three cantankerous mules, his boisterous brother, Nick, and an "incurably filthy" Jack Russell terrier named Olive Oyl. Along the way, they dodge thunderstorms in Nebraska, chase runaway mules across the Wyoming plains, scout more than five hundred miles of nearly vanished trail on foot, cross the Rockies, and make desperate fifty-mile forced marches for water. The Buck brothers repair so many broken wheels and axels that they nearly reinvent the art of wagon travel itself. They also must reckon with the ghost of their father, an eccentric yet loveable dreamer whose memory inspired their journey across the plains and whose premature death, many years earlier, has haunted them both ever since. But The Oregon Trail is much more than an epic adventure. It is also a lively and essential work of history that shatters the comforting myths about the trail years passed down by generations of Americans. Buck introduces readers to the largely forgotten roles played by trailblazing evangelists, friendly Indian tribes, female pioneers, bumbling U.S. Army cavalrymen, and the scam artists who flocked to the frontier to fleece the overland emigrants. Generous portions of the book are devoted to the history of old and appealing things like the mule and the wagon. We also learn how the trail accelerated American economic development. Most arresting, perhaps, are the stories of the pioneers themselves--ordinary families whose extraordinary courage and sacrifice made this country what it became. At once a majestic journey across the West, a significant work of history, and a moving personal saga, The Oregon Trail draws readers into the journey of a lifetime. It is a wildly ambitious work of nonfiction from a true American original. It is a book with a heart as big as the country it crosses.