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Surviving the Oregon Trail, 1852

As Told by Mary Ann and Willis Boatman and Augmented with Accounts by other Overland Travelers

Weldon Willis Rau


The 1852 overland migration, the largest on record, was a year in which cholera took a terrible toll on lives. Firsthand accounts, including the words and thoughts of a young married couple, Mary Ann and Willis Boatman, convey the journey’s hardships and heartbreak.

“A superb contribution to Oregon Trail scholarship.”—Susan Badger-Doyle, Oregon-California Trails Association

Illustrations / photographs / maps / notes / bibliography / index / 256 pages (2001)

Listen to an interview with Weldon Rau on TVW’s Author’s Hour


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With numbers swelled by Oregon-bound settlers as well as hordes of gold-seekers destined for California, the 1852 overland migration was the largest on record in a year taking a terrible toll in lives mainly due to deadly cholera. Included here are firsthand accounts of this fateful year, including the words and thoughts of a young married couple, Mary Ann and Willis Boatman, released for the first time in book-length form.

In its immediacy, Surviving the Oregon Trail, 1852 opens a window to the travails of the overland journeyers—their stark camps, treacherous river fordings, and dishonest countrymen; the shimmering plains and mountain vastnesses, trepidation at crossing ancient Indian lands, and the dark angel of death hovering over the wagon columns. But also found here are acts of valor, compassion, and kindness, and the hope for a new life in a new land at the end of the trail.

Mary Ann Boatman at Tazwell County, northern Illinois, March 29, 1852:

“The hour had come and the oxen yoked and hitched to the big wagon, drove up in front of [the] gate, the gate that I had opened and passed through from childhood to woman[hood]… I tried to think it was for the best…At about 10 o’clock everything was loaded into the big ox wagon. Then came the hardest task of all for me…to say goodbye…Yes, I stepped out of that dear old house that had been my home all of my life…never to enter it again, nor to see my loving mother again…I walked out over the path that I had trod all my short life [and] where I had sported and played with my brothers and sisters and schoolmates. Everything looked so dear to me on that morning. Dear father opened the gate for me…and helped me…climb into the big wagon. Then came the words gee, whoa, get up Deke and Dime, Buck and Brite…the whip cracked and we were off.”

Illustrations / photographs / maps / notes / bibliography / index / 256 pages (2001)

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Weight N/A
Dimensions 6 x 9 in

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