The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck
Simon & Schuster: 6/30/15
eBook review copy, 464 pages
The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck is a very highly recommended account of two brothers traveling along the Oregon Trail today.
Author Rinker Buck, his brother Nick and Nick's “incurably filthy” Jack
named Olive Oyl traveled over 2000 miles for
four months along a route that was the Oregon Trail. They went from St.
Joseph, Missouri, to Baker City, Oregon, through six present-day states,
Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska,
Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon, in a covered wagon pulled by three mules
named Jake, Beck, and Bute. In the fifteen years before the
Civil War 400,000 pioneers used the trail to emigrate west. The last
documented crossing was in 1909, so this trip was a historical
reenactment or at least a taste of what happened during the great exodus
All it took to spark Rinker Buck's decision to travel the trail was
learning from Duane Durst, an administrator from the Kansas Historical
Society, that the 2100 mile length of the trail has been "meticulously
charted and marked, with long, undeveloped spaces now
preserved as a National Historic Trail. Except for two bad stretches of
suburban sprawl around Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and Boise, Idaho, most of
the rest of the trail is still accessible along remote farm and ranch
roads in the West." Rink decided he had to travel the trail, and do it
in as authentic a manner as possible.
If a travelogue of his adventures on the Oregon Trail today wasn't
enough, Buck also includes a plethora of additional information on a
wide variety of topics related to the trip. We learn a great deal about
mules, wagons, the pioneers, cholera, marking the trail, plants along
the way, burials along the trail, and the Mormon experience, to name a
handful of topics. Buck also talks about a trip his family made in 1958.
At that time his father decided to take his family on a month long "See
America Slowly" vacation. They traveled in a covered wagon from central
across the Delaware River to south central Pennsylvania on a month long
On the back of the wagon for this childhood trip his father had a sign
made that said: "We’re Sorry For The Delay—But We Want The Children To
SEE AMERICA SLOWLY
New Vernon, New Jersey to Valley Forge, Lancaster, Gettysburg, Penna."
For their new trip Nick
had taken the board to a sign painter in
Maine for the similar messaging he considered appropriate for our trip.
Painted on the back of the original sign was the new one:
"We Are Sorry For The Delay, But We Want To SEE AMERICA SLOWLY St.
Joseph, Ft. Kearny, Scott’s Bluff, South Pass, Farewell Bend."
Buck is a perfect writer for this harrowing adventure. As he writes,
"Only a delusional jackass, or someone seriously off his medications,
would pull off the road at the Hollenberg Ranch one fine summer
afternoon and concoct such a preposterous scheme. But you can’t save an
addictive dreamer from himself, and that jackass happens to be me." He's
a great story teller and includes a lot of self-deprecating humor along
with all the additional support information. Even while letting us in
on the mishaps and failures of the present trip, he includes references
to past experiences and stories from his childhood, and manages to tie
the two experiences together.
After spending my early years in Nebraska, I learned about the history
of the Oregon Trail every year of elementary school. It was fascinating
to read this account of the trail today and the hazards crossing it. The
year Rinker and Nick undertook this adventure was also a very wet year,
with lots of rain, thunderstorms, and flooding, so it was not an easy
year to travel the trail. I had to laugh at the fact that: "The brisk
and incessant prairie winds of Kansas and Nebraska were one of the most
persistent obstacles to travel that the pioneers complained about in
their journals." I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy
of Simon & Schuster for review