SEVEN TRAILS WEST , by Arthur King Peters (Abbeville Press, 252 pages, $39.95).
With the aid of more than two hundred historic and contemporary photographs and maps, Peters presents an account of life on the seven major”trails” that forged links between the eastern United States and the Far West during the nineteenth century. Only 64years elapsed, the author points out, between the time that Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and William Clark(1770-1838) reached the Pacific Ocean in 1805 and the driving of the last spike to mark the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. What is even more impressive, Peters states, is that “in that short interval the awesome technology of the Industrial Revolution was applied to nearly two-thirds of the American continent, which, atthe turn of the nineteenth century, had never heard the creak of a wagon wheel . . . .” In addition to the route blazed by Lewis and Clark during their 1804-06 expedition, Peters follows the course of the Santa Fe, Oregon-California, and Mormon trails used by wagon trains carrying settlers westward; the short-lived Pony Express route from St. Joseph,Missouri, to California in the early 1860s; and the completion of the transcontinental telegraph and railroad soon after.Diaries, journals, and written reminiscences offer a glimpse of the hardships encountered by the more than a half-million people who traveled west in search of a better life.