[an error occurred while processing this directive]Wagons Westward:

The Old Trail to Santa Fe. By Armstrong Sperry. Illustrated by the Author. 276 pp. Philadelphia, Pa.: The John Winston Company. $2

By Ellen Lewis Buell


from The New York Times Book Review, 2/28/37


To Jonathan Starbuck, watching the wagon-trains encamped about the frontier town of Independence, Mo., in the year 1846, it seemed as if all America were headed Westward. A likely lad of 15, son and grandson of pioneers, could hardly fail to be stirred by Pierre Leroux's rousing words: "Get out of this trumpery town. Once you jump off the west bank of the Missouri you're in country fresh-hewn from the hand of God. The cowards never start and the weak die along the way," and when Jonathan was suddenly freed of his obligations he too was riding toward Santa Fé, his father's flintlock rifle, made by Dan'l Boone, under his arm, his father's advice, "grow up with this great country," in his ears.

It took him but a day or so to join the expedition which Leroux was guiding across the desert under the dubious leadership of Black Jack Bannock, and it was not long before he sensed that some hidden issue lay between the dashing young guide who had already captured his admiration and friendship and the bully who bore an evil reputation among the frontiersmen. It was a bad time to be trekking through the Southwest, for the Indians were rising to savage attacks, and there was uneasy talk of war with Mexico. Suddenly Jonathan found himself allied with Leroux against an intrigue which threatened the fate of Americans in New Mexico. This untried lad was to know adventure and danger in its grisliest forms, the brutality of lawless men, the breathless risks of a buffalo chase, attack and capture by Comanches, the terrible suffering of a desert march, and imprisonment in a Mexican dungeon before he saw Kearney's men sweep triumphantly into Santa Fé to hoist an American flag over the Governor's Palace.

Armstrong Sperry has more than matched his fine "All Sail Set" with this new tale of the days of American expansion. Adventure gallops through its pages at break-neck speed, sustained by a colorful and robust prose. But Mr. Sperry is not content with mere incident. He knows the picturesque value of those seeming trifles which played such an important part of the building of a country, and he fills in the background of his vast canvas with detail upon detail: the Kentucky rifles, the Green River knives of the frontiersmen, the sturdy "buffalo horses" which could "smell an Indian like a beaver kin smell bait"; the tall tales and flavor some some speech of the toughened old Mountain Men, until the very feel of those epic days is quickened again to life, and accented with the author's own vigorous drawings.



This page last updated Friday, 04/03/09, by Margo Burns, margo@ogram.org
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