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Francis Parkman

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  • Francis Parkman

    I suppose most Americans will have read some of Parkman, he being one of their most famous historians, but he's perhaps not so well known to others.

    I was interested to find that Audible is offering The Oregon Trail as an eBook through iTunes:

    And if anyone's interested but would prefer text, Project Gutenberg has the text available free:

    Rather than a historical work this is a diary of Parkman's travels in the west of the country in the 19th century - long enough ago for it to be itself historical source material. And it is, of course, something of record of some of the last Stone Age hunters.

    There are items of passing interest to this board. No one here should be surprised to read of people living almost exclusively on meat. And no one here would be surprised to find that when a French servant at Fort Laramie is castigated by his boss for serving the "best" meat to his trapper friends, the "best' is the fattest. (Truth to tell in any pre-modern source, the best meat is fat meat, and one thing that strikes me about low-fat ideologues is that they obviously never read anything.)

    Parkman spent some time with the Sioux and one of the remarkable things about the Sioux (and other Plains tribes) is their lack of restraint and readiness to resort to violence. Parkman tells how a man relates to him with relish how they caught a Shoshone, severed his tendons so that he couldn't move, and put him in a fire. But it's not just inter-tribal hostility with which people will already be familiar - people who haven't read accounts like this may be surprised to learn of the simmering feuds and violence within villages. As for if you're an outsider - according to Parkman, people who might otherwise be perfectly friendly and at ease with you, if they caught you out on the prairie unarmed and you showed signs of fear would fall on you, almost as if you have triggered some predatory instinct. One wonders, in anthropological vein, if these levels of aggression would be necessary for hunting animals as dangerous and hard-to-kill as buffalo. Incidentally, Parkman relates how a large party of American immigrants gets relatively close to a herd of buffalo, but the resulting fusillade of rifle fire brings down not one beast. You have to know the animal's anatomy and put your missile in the right place.

    One further point of interest is the pen-pictures of elderly but fairly vigorous individuals. In fact, among the Sioux it seems that most of the work around camp is done not just by the women but by the old women:

    The moving spirit of the establishment, in more senses than one, was a hideous old hag of eighty. Human imagination never conceived hobgoblin or witch more ugly than she. You could count all her ribs through the wrinkles of the leathery skin that covered them. Her withered face more resembled an old skull than the countenance of a living being, even to the hollow, darkened sockets, at the bottom of which glittered her little black eyes. Her arms had dwindled away into nothing but whipcord and wire. Her hair, half black, half gray, hung in total neglect nearly to the ground, and her sole garment consisted of the remnant of a discarded buffalo robe tied round her waist with a string of hide. Yet the old squaw's meager anatomy was wonderfully strong. She pitched the lodge, packed the horses, and did the hardest labor of the camp. From morning till night she bustled about the lodge, screaming like a screech-owl when anything displeased her.
    Not very gentlemanly of Parkman to refer to an old lady as a "hag" but there we are.

  • #2
    Francis Parkman sits on my special shelf with the writings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Paine, Alexis de Tocqvevile,and a compilation of colonial (American)writings from the late 18th Century put together by John Rhodehamel. I think I got them all. I have Hamilton and Marshall too but they are in the section of shame.

    There aren't too many good histories from those days. Not about those days, From those days.

    Are you a fan of American history dealing with the establishment of the new nation?

    Look for some threads I started about free books. Guarantee you will like the links there.
    Tayatha om bekandze

    Bekandze maha bekandze

    Randza samu gate soha


    • #3
      I love Stevenson. I consider him an honorary American.

      I just ordered my copy of the Mark Twain Autobiography, volume 1. I am eager to see what opinions he penned but considered so hot that they needed a 100 year rest before their unleashing on the public. Considering what he was willing to say about Christianity in his own time, I expect some serious fireworks.


      • #4
        very very interesting


        • #5
          Originally posted by periquin View Post
          Are you a fan of American history dealing with the establishment of the new nation?
          Sure, though not that only -- the early modern period in general, particularly the 16th - 18th centuries, interests me. (I can be fascinated by something like Pepys's Diaries.) But I think with colonial America there's also the interest of reading about some of the world's last hunter-gatherer communities. And there's the wilderness. That's almost a character itself with the Hudson River School painters and in Cooper's novels. I loved this book: