Friday, January 25, 2008

Recent Read

Among the Indians, Eight Years in the far West, 1858-1866 by Henry A. Boller is yet another of the fabulous Lakeside Classics. This edition was released by the R. R. Donnelley Co. in 1959. The original manuscript was prepared from Boller's journals and published in late 1867 or early 1868. The title is somewhat confusing because the actual time period described in the book spans only four years 1858-1862.

Even if the title is misleading, it doesn't change the fact that if you like this type of first person historical narrative about the early fur traders and Indians, this is an absorbing, vivid, can't put it down type of book.

Boller came from an upper class family and spent three years at the University of Pennsylvania. Despite his privileged background and the chance to lead a life of relative luxury, the call of the frontier led him to abandon college in his senior year and obtain a clerkship with the "opposition" fur company of Clark and Primeau. This company was in direct competition with the American Fur Company owned by John Jacob Astor. In 1860 Astor bought Clark and Primeau in an effort to eliminate the competition and Boller found himself without a job. He quickly secured a spot in another "opposition" company, Larpenteur, Smith and Company

During the four years he chronicled he spent time in numerous fur trading forts and Indian villages all along the Missouri River and up to the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana. Boller describes not only his day to day activities, but he also gives us an in depth glimpse of Indian life before the demise of the buffalo.

Unlike settlers who tried to avoid all contact with the Indians, Boller's livelihood depended on constant contact with the Indians. His "career" demanded that he interact with both friendly and hostile Indians on a regular basis. Because of this, Boller is able to give us an intimate look at the everyday live of the many Indian tribes in the area. Both the fur traders and the Indians faced tremendous challenges in everyday living that they both accepted as a normal state of affairs. Life was hard and uncertain and there was plenty of excitement and danger to go around. Boller is an accomplished writer and is able to paint a vivid picture of events that make you feel as if you were right there with him.

I've said it before, but if you want to journey back into the very beginnings of American Western history, if you want to feel like you stepped out of a time machine and found yourself in that exciting but dangerous era, read this book.

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