Summary and book reviews of The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck

The Oregon Trail

A New American Journey

by Rinker Buck

The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2015, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2016, 464 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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 was 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 US 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.

The Oregon Trail
1

I HAD KNOWN LONG BEFORE I rode a covered wagon to Oregon that naïveté was the mother of adventure. I just didn't understand how much of that I really had. Nicholas and I realized before we left Missouri with the mules that we would be the first wagon travelers in more than a century to make an authentic crossing of the Oregon Trail. But that was never the point for us. We pushed mules almost two thousand miles to learn something more important. Even more beautiful than the land that we passed, or the months spent camping on the plains, was learning to live with uncertainty.

The trip was my idea, and I fell into it in my usual barmy way. A few summers ago, while taking an afternoon off from a story I was working on in the Flint Hills of Kansas, I stopped on the road near a stout granite monument that marked a set of wheel ruts disappearing northwest across the plains.

Junction
of
Oregon Trail
with
Overland Trail
60 Rod S-E

Enchanted by the idea that I could ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Buck is a mildly diverting memoirist, and the chronicle of his personal adventure is not without its moments – though it does suffer from a certain monotony, as only so much narrative momentum can be generated through the recitation of the daily tasks of hitch the mules, steer the wagon, find a campsite, unhitch the mules, cook dinner, sleep under the stars. But his research into the teeming and turbulent existence of the original Oregon Trail pioneers is utterly riveting, from his discussions of how to choose the perfect mule for wagon transport to the ravages of cholera along the trail.   (Reviewed by James Broderick).

Full Review (1078 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.

Media Reviews

The New York Times

Absorbing . . . This shaggy pilgrimage describes a form of happiness sought, and happiness found.

Entertainment Weekly

An incredible true story . . . Weaving a tale somewhere between a travelogue and a history lesson, Buck traces the iconic path literally and figuratively as he re-creates the great migration with his brother and a Jack Russell terrier.

The Boston Globe

“Awe-inspiring . . . Charming, big-hearted, impassioned, and a lot of fun to read . . . If Buck doesn’t quite make you want to hitch up your own wagon, his rapturous account will still leave you daydreaming and hungry to see this land.

Cleveland Plain Dealer

Engaging . . . What a way to spend a summer! Rinker Buck lived the dream of countless red-blooded Americans. . . . The Oregon Trail is must reading for anyone in love with the West.

Christian Science Monitor

A quintessential American story . . . you’d think the book would be slow-paced and fusty, but it’s really something else: raw, visceral, and often laugh-out-loud funny.

USA Today

A trip back in time . . . Buck brings the land to life in a richly researched book that draws heavily from journals kept by the pioneers and their memoirs. . . . His exploration of America and himself is a joy to read.

Publishers Weekly

An entertaining and enlightening account of one of America's most legendary migrations. Even readers who don't know a horse from a mule will find themselves swept up in this inspiring and masterful tale of perseverance and the pioneer spirit.

Library Journal

Romantic . . . Compelling . . . The Oregon trip is fraught with mishaps, near-death experiences, and plain bad luck. But there were also angels along the way helping them get through.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Astonishing ... By turns frankly hilarious, historically elucidating, emotionally touching, and deeply informative ... A crazy whim of a trip on a covered wagon turns into an inspired exploration of American identity.

Author Blurb Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder and Americana
As he makes his two thousand-mile pilgrimage by cussed mule across the dusty continent, Rinker Buck finds his way deep into our nation's DNA.

Author Blurb George Howe Colt, National Book Award finalist for The Big House
Part Laura Ingalls Wilder, part Jack Kerouac, The Oregon Trail is an idiosyncratic and irresistible addition to the canon of American road-trip literature.

Author Blurb Bob Drury, coauthor of The Heart of Everything That Is
A master storyteller and dogged reporter, Buck gives substance to an unrelenting wanderlust that is the envy of anyone who has ever dreamed of lighting out for the territories.

Author Blurb Eric Jay Dolin, author of Fur, Fortune, and Empire and Leviathan
Once you start reading this book, you will not want to stop. With wonderful writing, colorful characters, and a deep understanding of history and the human condition, Rinker Buck delivers a richly rewarding portrait of the Oregon Trail, past and present.

Reader Reviews

Suzanne

Rinker Buck's Jaunt
For me, this was one of the most interesting true-story history books I’ve read in a long time. And, the author is not shy when he is telling us about the real-life adventures he and his brother, Nick, and the Jack Russell, Olive Oyl, experience ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

The Oregon Trail

One of the defining qualities of the American character has always been restlessness. But even within the traditions of that locomotive impulse, the so-called "Great Migration of 1843" stands out as a singularly significant upheaval in the history of continental relocation – and a central concern of Rinker Buck's The Oregon Trail: An American Journey.

Prior to the early 1840s, what today is labeled the Oregon Trail was really more of a set of loosely connected overland routes through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. After dispatches from the Oregon territory – from Christian missionaries and fur trappers testifying to the abundant wealth of natural resources and the stirring ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Oregon Trail, try these:

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Rules of Magic
    The Rules of Magic
    by Alice Hoffman
    Alice Hoffman's Rules of Magic is the long-awaited prequel to one of her most cherished novels,...
  • Book Jacket: Good Me Bad Me
    Good Me Bad Me
    by Ali Land
    Is a psychopath born or made? This is the terrifying question that author Ali Land explores in her ...
  • Book Jacket: Five-Carat Soul
    Five-Carat Soul
    by James McBride
    In the short story "Sonny's Blues," from the 1965 collection Going to Meet the Man, African-...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

"A powerful, provocative debut ... Intelligent, honest, and unsentimental." - Kirkus, starred review

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Never Coming Back
    by Alison McGhee

    A moving exploration of growing up and growing old, and the ties that bind parents and children.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Wisdom of Sundays

The Wisdom of Sundays
by Oprah Winfrey

Life-changing insights from super soul conversations.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A Good M I H T F

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.