Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Wagon Trains and Settlers

Wagon Trains and Settlers

Ellen H. Todras
Nonfiction picture book
For ages 7 to 9
Kingfisher, 2011   ISBN: 978-0753465110

In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson bought a huge area of land, an acquisition that came to be called the Louisiana Purchase. In 1804 he sent out an expedition to map and explore the lands to the west of Mississippi River, and when those travelers came back two years later they told people about tall mountains, strange animals, and fruitful lands. More explorers, trappers, and missionaries set off to see what these new lands were like, and then in the 1840s people living to the east of the Mississippi River began to make the journey west, heading mostly for California or Oregon.

   Today such a journey by plane or even by car would be easy to do, but in the 1840’s the trip was long, uncertain, and dangerous. People made the journey because of the promise of free land that was good for farming, and when gold was discovered in California, many of the people who went west headed for the gold fields.

   A large number of the people who made the journey began by traveling up the Mississippi, Ohio, and Illinois Rivers to get to the Missouri River. Then, from towns like St. Joseph and Independence, which were located on the Missouri River, they began the overland journey. Families loaded all the worldly goods that they wanted to take with them, along with supplies, into a covered wagon. For two thousand miles on rough trails such wagons crossed the country, and they were usually pulled by mules or oxen. The people, unless they were very young, ill, or elderly, walked. When the emigrants came to rivers, they floated their wagons across.

   Often the wagons travelled in groups, or wagon trains. The settlers helped one another out, sharing fires at night, and working together to keep the train moving. Sometimes pilots helped the settlers find the right trails, but often the settlers used maps and guide books to help them choose the best route to take. The maps and information they depended on was frequently inaccurate, which caused great hardship for the settlers who all too often had no clear idea of where they were going.

   In this excellent title the author shows his readers what it would have been like to travel overland from Missouri to Oregon or California during the mid 1800s. An engaging text is complimented by annotated photos of period artifacts, period photos and illustrations, and illustrations that show children scenes from wagon trail life. Each double page spread explores one aspect of the story of the wagon trains. Among other things readers will learn about the daily routines of life on the trail, what people took with them, the dangers they faced, and the routes that they took.

    This is one of the books in a series of nonfiction historical titles for young readers.