John Colter was a key member of the Lewis and Clark expedition before striking out on his own to become a mountain man and fur trader. He is often creJohn Colter was a key member of the Lewis and Clark expedition before striking out on his own to become a mountain man and fur trader. He is often credited with being the first white man to see the wonders of what is today known as Yellowstone National Park. I’ve read a fair number of biographies of frontiersman over the years because, frankly, that historical period of America fascinates me and the men and women of that time are truly inspirations. Earlier this year I was fortunate to be able to visit both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and picked up this volume in order to fill in one of the holes in my collection.
Unfortunately, as evidenced by this biography, there is a lot that is simply unknown about John Colter and his life. He wasn’t the sort to leave behind diaries or much in the way of letters, etc. so any biographer is forced to rely on the observations of others, much of which has been passed down as stories, hearsay, and even tall tales. The author is careful to distinguish among them though so the reader is never in doubt about what is factual and what is speculation.
Because there is so little actually known about Colter, much of this book is padded with descriptions and actions of other people whom he encountered such as Manuel Lisa, William Clark, and numerous Indian tribes. Thorough descriptions of how fur trapping operations worked and attempts to prove where Colter may have been at any particular time based on a tedious comparison of the maps being developed at the time tend to drag down the narrative even though they can be interesting subjects in their own right. There is even a full chapter on the marvels of beaver engineering.
Overall, it was an interesting read…I just wish we knew more about John Colter himself. ...more
I’ve long been interested in “The Alamo”, not only in what happened historically but also in the men and women on both sides of the siege and battle.I’ve long been interested in “The Alamo”, not only in what happened historically but also in the men and women on both sides of the siege and battle. This book’s subtitle, “Highlights in the Lives of Bowie, Crockett, and Travis” is apt, especially the word “Highlights”. There is little more here than a presentation of the biographies of these three men with short additional chapters on the siege itself as well as some myths that have been associated with what actually happened.
The bulk of the book provides biographies of the big three (at least as considered by the Texan side of the siege). Even though I feel I know quite a lot about this chapter in American history through reading books, watching documentaries, and several visits to the site, I still felt I learned a little from this book as well. The chapters on Bowie and Travis were the most enlightening as their bios are generally less well known than Crockett’s. This is a scholarly work and the author uses many quotes from various journals and letters to tell their stories. An entire chapter is devoted not to Jim Bowie himself but rather to the origins of the “Bowie knife” and delved into which of the Bowie brothers might have actually been the one who developed the design. The actual final day of battle is provided via a multi-page quotation from what is usually considered to be the most authentic account, “The Fall of the Alamo” by Captain Reuben Potter who was living in Matamoras at the time of the siege.
The author takes great pains to point out just what is considered factual and what is based on hearsay or opinion. All in all this was an enjoyable book to read, and provides a good summary for those that might be curious as to the backgrounds of these three famous men whose origins were so completely different but whose lives all ended so dramatically on the same early March day in 1836. ...more
I suppose most people buy “coffee-table books” simply to look good as props around the house. They may get paged through for the picture value too, buI suppose most people buy “coffee-table books” simply to look good as props around the house. They may get paged through for the picture value too, but how many times are they actually read?
I have to say I didn’t expect too much from this book. I feel I am pretty well versed in the history of the American West so what could a coffee-table book offer? Happily, the answer is: quite a lot. No, there are no newly found facts or insights never before presented, but as a nice summary of the forces that interacted and impacted the region over time, you could do far worse.
This book covers far more than the westward wagon trains and the plight of the Native Americans. Quoting from the book’s conclusion, “From Spanish conquistadores to gold-rush prospectors, from French coureurs de bois to American mountain men, from Presbyterian missionaries to Mormon pilgrims, from wagon-train sojourners to railroad barons, from free-spirited cowboys to steadfast sodbusters, from cattle-rustling women to wheat-farming ex-slaves, from Native American warriors to soldiers of the US Army, all kinds of people participated in the invention of the American West. Each blazed a different trail, making a unique contribution to that unique time and place. Together, they left a legacy of brash optimism and fierce individualism that still defines the consciousness of the United States.”
The pictures that accompany the text are of high quality and almost exclusively historical photographs, paintings and maps. Their richness brings the entire book to life. In addition, there are many quotes attributed to the participants, both from famous leaders and pathfinders as well as from the more common people who experienced life from the ground up. For anybody seeking a well written and informative summary of this subject, I highly recommend this book. ...more
Blood and Thunder, subtitled, "The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West", was written by Hampton Sides and was an importantBlood and Thunder, subtitled, "The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West", was written by Hampton Sides and was an important book for me. You see, I grew up in the Southwestern US, namely New Mexico, and have since lived all over the western US including California, Utah, and Colorado, also spending lots of time in Nevada, Arizona, and Texas. And yet, I have long felt my historical education of the region has been aquired in bits and pieces only with no real handle on how it all fit together. I was first attracted to this book by the great cover art and the subject of Kit Carson since I had always wanted to read about his life. But this book turned out to be about quite a bit more than just Kit Carson's life.
Don't get me wrong, Kit Carson's life and deeds are incredible. He seems to have been everywhere in the West, at most of the important events, often effecting them in astounding ways. We read of John Charles Fremont and his Pathfinder expeditions, with Kit Carson as his guide. We follow the Civil War events in New Mexico (a good followup to the set of four novels I read last year by P.G. Nagle), as well as learn about General Stephen Watts Kearny, the conquerer of the West. And through it all is the plight of the Navajo Indians, and their leaders. These events and characters just scratch the surface of what this book covers. I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in a good all-around discussion of the history of the American South West....more