PULLMAN, Wash.—Like the 1852 journey Edward Jay Allen—the hero of their book—took to Puget Sound, the authors’ path to publishing was filled with surprising twists and turns. While researching a related topic, Karen L. Johnson discovered a tantalizing article that sparked an obsession with the twenty-two-year-old pioneer roadbuilder. She partnered with fellow Oregon Trail buff Dennis M. Larsen, and the pair began a long hunt for Allen’s letters cited in the article, a search that led to a scrapbook held at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
Soon they were transcribing the dispatches, about 150,000 words in all. Utterly fascinated by Allen’s remarkable adventures, the two writers investigated the people, places, and events he depicted. They traveled extensively, tracing much of his journey and visiting many of the locations he described. Larsen and his wife embarked on a 10,000 mile road trip to examine additional materials housed in private collections across the country. After other historians learned about their work, they were invited to speak at a series of history lectures in Olympia, Washington.
Meanwhile, on a whim, Gus Rosanio typed “Edward Jay Allen” into his computer’s search engine. Up popped an online notice about Johnson’s lecture, and soon she was listening to Rosanio’s extraordinary story. While walking on a New Jersey shoreline in 1981, he had rescued two bags of trash outside an estate sale. Inside, he found a bundle of letters written between 1850 and 1854. Over the next twenty years, he too transcribed much of that correspondence. Now, serendipity intervened again to unite the scrapbook missives Allen wrote with those in Rosanio’s possession—letters Eddie had received from friends and family.
Those chance encounters resulted in the newest book from Washington State University Press, A Yankee on Puget Sound: Pioneer Dispatches of Edward Jay Allen, 1852–1855. After traveling west on the Oregon Trail, Eddie packed abundant exploits into his three years in Washington Territory. He served as a Monticello Convention delegate, claimed donation land north of Olympia, led survey and construction teams laying out the Naches Pass wagon road, explored Puget Sound on a whaleboat, and with two others, made the first documented ascent of Mt. Adams. The young Yankee logged his experiences, deftly weaving in descriptive passages, humor, and poetry, while eloquently reflecting the views of his time. His diary and published letters survived more than a century-and-a-half to shed new insight into little-known aspects of Pacific Northwest history.