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What I saw in California

being the journal of a tour by the emigrant route and south pass of the Rocky Mountains, across the continent of North America, the great desert basin, and through California, in the years 1846-1847

Edwin Bryant  (1805-1869)



455 pages

index included

D. Appleton & Co. • 1848

This is an absolute must read.  I must add that this book should be a text book for a western migration class.  Bryant takes the reader from the east coast to California in 1847.  This book is his diary.  What makes this so interesting is that Bryant was a doctor of the day, well, almost a doctor.  He was an intern when he went west to finish his studies.  Like any good intern, he kept good notes in his diary concerning the pioneers he treated.  Not to mention that he has an excellent description of the trail.

Bart Bevin on GoodReads

An amazing, plainly written record of what it was like to travel the Oregon Trail.  The high point by far is his account of crossing the Utah salt flats, nearly dying of exhaustion along the way.

What Edwin Bryant saw literally cannot be seen anymore.  That America is gone.

Chris on GoodReads

Bryant intended his work to function as both entertainment to the general reader and instruction for those planning to follow his path, and the book is a repository of useful information, like distances, weather, water source locations, and descriptions of plant life.  As such, it is invaluable to enthusiasts of Western history.

It is also a really good story, with entertaining sketches of camp life, Indians, and animals.  Bryant's descriptions of the landscapes are particularly compelling: "The vast prairie itself soon opened before us in all its grandeur and beauty...The view of the illimitable succession of green undulations and flowery slopes, of every gentle and graceful configuration, stretching away and away, until they fade from the sight in the dim distance, creates a wild and scarcely controllable ecstasy of admiration."

The variety of Bryant's adventures is striking - in one day he is present at a death, a wedding, a funeral, and a birth.  He is often nearly overwhelmed by the functions of nature going on around him, and is particularly moved by the continuous presence of death: "One of our party who left the train to hunt through the valley, brought into camp this evening a human skull.  He stated that the place where he found it was whitened with human bones.  Doubtless this spot was the scene of some Indian massacre, or a battle-field where hostile tribes had met and destroyed each other.  I could learn no explanatory tradition; but the tragedy, whatever its occasion, occurred many years ago."

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