Here is the history of the various routes to California-commonly known as the California Trail- explored through primary sources -- diaries, letters, reminiscences of the emigrants themselves. George Stewart has written the epic tale of how the chief trails were opened up for group migration on a trial and error basis through the years from 1841 to 1851. The knowledge was elementary; mountain men and fur traders had explored the ways-some like Jedediah Smith and Joe Walker were considered authorities- and Walker is met at intervals in these pages. But the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail- these were vaguely known to men set upon taking their families from Missouri- and points east- across the virtually unmarked wilderness. This is a year by year record of the progress made, the ways opened up, the failures and tragedies- the near successes and the achievements- of men and women. It is a saga of people rather than incident, though incident is there. There are the ways of travel- covered wagon (only rarely Conestogas wagons, despite legend), mule pack, horse, even foot travelers. There are the minute details of organization, the rules of the road and the encampment. There are the problems of food, and of hunting and trapping on the way, of water for man and beast. There are rivers to cross, mountains and deserts, the camping sites, and again and again the false trails. And there are the Indians, more nuisance than menace, for again Stewart finds the records differing with the legends. There is the stuff of America in the making here- Stewart is a historian first, his storytelling is almost incidental. The book will be immensely valuable as a reference work, and for those who like their history virtually annotated, it is good reading.