The Perilous West

Seven Amazing Explorers and the Founding of the Oregon Trail

By (author) Larry E. Morris

Publication date:

19 December 2012

Length of book:

270 pages


Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN-13: 9781442211124

Although a host of adventurers stormed west in 1806 after Lewis and Clark’s safe return, seven of them left unique legacies because of their monumental journeys, their lionhearted spirit in the face of hardship, and the way their paths intertwined time and again. The Perilous West tells this riveting story in depth for the first time, focusing on each of the seven explorers in turn – Ramsay Crooks, Robert McClellan, John Hoback, Jacob Reznor, Edward Robinson, Pierre Dorion, and Marie Dorion. These seven counted the Tetons, Hells Canyon, and South Pass among their discoveries. More importantly, they forged the Oregon Trail–a path destined to link the Atlantic coast with the Pacific, spurring national expansion as it carried trappers, soldiers, pioneers, missionaries, and gold-seekers westward. The PerilousWest begins in 1806, when Crooks and McClellan meet Lewis and Clark, and the vast expanse from the Dakotas to the Pacific coast appears a commercial paradise. The story ends in 1814, when a band of French Canadian trappers rescue Marie Dorion, and even John Jacob Astor’s well-financed enterprise has ended in violence and chaos, placing the protagonists squarely in the context of Thomas Jefferson’s monumental opening of the West, which stalled with the War of 1812.

Morris (The Fate of the Corps: What Became of the Lewis and Clark Explorers After the Expedition) here focuses on the early 1800s Western fur trade, beginning with Robert McClellan and Ramsey Crooks, both of whom started up the Missouri River in 1806, each meeting the returning Lewis and Clark expedition. Despite the title, the adventures of many more than seven major historical figures are presented here in a single integrated narrative about the search for a new overland route to reach the Oregon country. Prominently featured is Marie Dorion, the Iowa Indian wife of interpreter and hunter Pierre Dorian Jr. In 1811–12 she became the second woman in recorded Western history to travel cross-country to the Pacific Ocean, with voyageurs employed by St. Louis fur merchant Wilson Price Hunt. Marie Dorion’s adventures parallel those of Sacagawea of the Lewis and Clark expedition; the two women even seem to have befriended each other between 1809 and 1811. VERDICT Highly recommended for both specialists and general readers, this history of the Western fur trade and early explorers along the Oregon Trail is a welcome addition to the literature.