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Paper Topic:

A Life Wild and Perilous: Mountian Men And The Path To The Pacific

Robert M . Utley , A Life Wild and Perilous : Mountain Men and The Path to the Pacific (New York : Henry Holt Co . 1997

Reading this book was like listening to tall tales told around the dancing flames of a faraway campfire . One can almost hear the Grizzly 's roar , the rushing river , the war cries of long forgotten warriors , and almost smell the mountain forests . Therein lies the key to the author 's approach to historical storytelling : in this book , as in his many other histories written for popular consumption on American western subjects

br he vividly and impeccably writes gripping and detailed narratives about well researched colorful individuals on the frontiers of the nineteenth century . He successfully provides the context for these narratives with an easy to understand explanation of America 's western expansion , and seamlessly bundles the entirety into a stylishly written story

Utley focuses on the period between the Lewis and Clark Expedition in1804 and the end of the western expansion era in the 1850s . He chooses his subjects not only because they provided the critical first movement of America into it 's Far West , but because , he argues , their memoirs maps , and knowledge of geography and the local Native Americans made future settlement possible . I found his thesis well proven

The author provides a brief historical context in each chapter and relates his subject 's adventures from the bottom up - often quoting vivid primary sources that exposes their contradictions -- their courage and illiteracy , ambition and uncouthness , their hunger for adventure and appetite for violence , and their often inevitable tragic endings . Each chapter focuses on one or two colorful personalities , men with names like Crazy Bill Williams and Jeremiah Liver-Eating Johnson . The compelling personalities may not contribute to proving the author 's thesis , but they do make the book an enjoyable read

The author devotes more than just one chapter to his favorite , Jedediah Smith , a man as austere as his colleagues were abrasive , who carefully mapped and detailed his travels . Smith perfectly embodies the author 's thesis , that the mountain men 's maps and journals were essential to the opening of the Far West . Utley believes that Smith was "point man in the contest for Oregon , and did more to open the Far Western frontier than any other early pioneer did . Utley notes that Smith was a man in sharp contrast to most other mountaineers , such as Jim Bridger , who were stereotypical mountain men , full of whiskey and gall and telling tall tales , as did Bridger , about petrified forests with "peetrified birds singing peetrified songs

Utley writes a revealing key passage about President Jefferson that delineates the book 's central approach to the subject of the Mountain Men . In 1802 , Jefferson read a British trapper 's memoir about his travels in the NorthWest . Alexander Mackenzie 's book inspired Jefferson to send a band of hearty men on a reconnaissance to scout the unknown Far West , .to discover the continental passage , colonize the Pacific Coast and tap...

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