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The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 47, July 1943 - April, 1944

Book Reviews

The Year of Decision, 1846. By Bernard De Voto. Boston
(Little, Brown and Company), 1943. Pp. xv+538. Illus-
trated. $3.50.
This book might have been called-as a book was called many
years ago with less justification-"The Winning of the Far
West." Under such a title, a reader would expect conventional
chapters on the annexation of Texas; settlement of the Oregon
boundary; presidential politics, foreign and domestic; the Mex-
ican War; the conquest of New Mexico and California; and
the westward movement. On the Mexican War, one would
expect treatment of the campaigns of Taylor, Scott, Kearny,
Doniphan, and the opera bouffe performances of Fremont and
Stockton in California. The chapter on the westward move-
ment might summarize the Santa Fe trade as described by
Josiah Gregg; the experiences of an emigrant train, reflected
from the pages of the Oregon Trail; and possibly the beginning
of the Mormon migration to Utah.
These topics and many others do appear in this amazing
book: glimpses of the planners of a new heaven and a new
earth, less practical than their intellectual offspring a hundred
years later, and more honest, because they paid for their own
experiments-reformers "who felt the world's pain and lacked
a sense of reality"; Parkman actually on the trail, but "the
historian succumbed to a parochialism of his class . . . and
denied our culture a study of the American empire at the mo-
ment of its birth"; Stephen Foster's plaintive melodies; inven-
tions that produced the industrial revolution; the Santa Fe trade,
extended this time to Chihuahua, Saltillo, and Matamoros, hu-
manized by the experiences, hopes, and anxieties of human
beings and particularly by the artless reflections of a singularly
lovely child-bride; emigrant trains traveling the new Apple-
gate trail to Oregon, and to California by the already conven-
tionalized Humboldt River Trail and by the ghastly Hastings
Cut-off, the impractical vision of "a smart young man who wrote
a book without knowing what he was talking about"; the un-
admirable ambitions of many little men and truly heroic per-
formances of some big ones. Almost, if not quite, the book
achieves the universal desire of the historian to make the past
live-"almost," because it may presume a little more knowledge
than the nontechnical reader has. The secret of the achieve-
ment lies in the author's intimate acquaintance with an unbe-
lievable number of characters, including familiarity with their


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 47, July 1943 - April, 1944. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed April 29, 2016.

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