This epic travelogue by doctor and naturalist John Kirk Townsend follows his progress across the danger-fraught wilderness of North America in the 1830s.
Townsend was one of thousands of young, adventurous men who ventured westwards. Many of these fellows were trappers and hunters who sought to earn a living finding and selling the pelts of animals. These 'mountain men' were among the first white people to ever witness the Rocky Mountains in person. The ruggedness of these land would claim the lives of many, especially in the initial years when the landscapes were uncharted and unknown.
Unlike most of the men who blazed a trail in those early days, Townsend was a man of science trained in medicine. For this he was a valuable asset to other travellers, for whom injury and illness was a frequent fact of life. From these travels, Townsend honed his observational skills as a naturalist; he became famous for collecting and cataloguing numerous new animals, particularly exotic birds native to North America.
Beginning his trek in the city of St. Louis, and bidding farewell to the last of the human comforts of urban life, Townsend immediately sets to telling of life going west. He sets a descriptive tone; telling the reader about the Native American tribes, their customs and dress, and the many creatures large and small he would spot along his route.
This narrative is valuable for offering a glimpse of the Western frontier as it was long ago; individuals who would otherwise be forgotten and lost to time are described and given life by Townsend. The priests, merchants, trappers and Native Americans he encounters are brought to life, and together they imbue this travelogue with a unique, historical richness.