Saturday, January 31, 2009

To Truckee's Trail

To Truckee’s Trail: The Greatest Adventure…Never Told by Celia Hayes
(Booklocker / 1-601-45252-7 / 978-1-601-45252-8 / July 2007 / 276 pages / $15.95 / Kindle $7.19)

Reviewed by Juliet Waldron for PODBRAM

We’ve all seen plenty of wagon train stories on TV and at the movies. To Truckee’s Trail will carry you back “to those thrilling days of yesteryear,” but not in Hollywood fashion. This is an historical novel in the truest sense of the word, because it is based upon surviving documents from a real journey made by emigrants to California. As this is the late 1840’s, the “trail” was not well known, and the most challenging part of the journey was crossing the mountains before the snows came. The documents are here, artfully interspersed with the author’s characterizations of these intrepid travelers.

They set off in the spring, fording rivers, and encountering Indians and buffalo as they made their way over a pristinely beautiful prairie landscape. At first, their difficulties are mostly with each other. When they reach the desert, however, their primary antagonist becomes Nature, and this continues as they race to cross the trackless mountains before winter traps them. As this journey actually took place a few years before the Donner Party, the reader knows quite well (better, perhaps, than did those long ago emigrants) what the risks were.

The expedition’s doctor carries the story. He’s uniquely positioned to interact with all the members of the party, at their best and at their worst. The author's feel for period dialogue and sensibility never fails her. I found her portraits of the oxen and mules as genuine and moving as those of the human characters.

Although the book starts slowly, as so many characters must be introduced, the excitement begins as soon as they hit the trail. A society in miniature must be established, and not everyone wants to follow the rules. There are quarrels and illnesses, as well as Indians and deserts, floods and storms, and at the end, those death-trap mountain snows to endure. If you're a fan of adventure, or if you're a lover of Westerns, you'll certainly enjoy To Truckee's Trail as much as I did.

See Also: Dianne Salerni's High Spirits Review
Reviews of Adelsverein by Celia Hayes - The Gathering - The Harvesting - The Sowing

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