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Sierra Crossing: First Roads To California

A critical era in California's history and development—the building of the first roads over the Sierra Nevada—is thoroughly and colorfully documented in Thomas Howard's fascinating book. During California's first two decades of statehood (1850-1870), the state was separated from the east coast by a sea journey of at least six weeks. Although Californians expected to be connected with the other states by railroad soon after the 1849 Gold Rush, almost twenty years elapsed before this occurred. Meanwhile, various overland road ventures were launched by "emigrants," former gold miners, state government officials, the War Department, the Interior Department, local politicians, town businessmen, stagecoach operators, and other entrepreneurs whose alliances with one another were constantly shifting. The broad landscape of international affairs is also a part of Howard's story.Constructing roads and accumulating geographic information in the Sierra Nevada reflected Washington's interest in securing the vast western territories formerly held by others. In a remarkably short time the Sierra was transformed by vigorous exploration, road-promotion, and road-building. Ox-drawn wagons gave way to stagecoaches able to provide service as fine as any in the country. Howard effectively uses diaries, letters, newspaper stories, and official reports to recreate the human struggle and excitement involved in building the first trans-Sierra roads. Some of those roads have become modern highways used by thousands every day, while others are now only dim traces in the lonely backcountry.

Hardcover: 227 pages

Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition edition (June 30, 1998)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0520206703

ISBN-13: 978-0520206700

Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches

Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds

Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

Best Sellers Rank: #1,724,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books) #407 in Books > Engineering & Transportation > Engineering > Civil & Environmental > Transportation #1201 in Books > Engineering & Transportation > Transportation > Aviation > History #1453 in Books > Literature & Fiction > United States > Classics

I bought this book to research westward immigration. It is fascinating and easy to read. Very little has been written on this subject, and being a California history buff, I found it very informative. I learned new stuff about both the Bidwell and Donner-Reed parties, and about Kit Carson, Jedidiah Smith, John C. Fremont, and the Spanish Conquistadors. The first half of the book concentrates on horse and wagon travel, whereas the second half focuses on the railroads. I would have preferred more of the former and less of the latter, primarily because a lot more has been written about the railroads. The book contains two helpful maps; I would have liked more. All in all, I found this readable and informative.

I found Howard's book to be very informative filled with a multitude of excellent primary and secondary sources that has caused me to increase my library with six new books! Howard has done his homework well, although I could add a new source to his list with the inclusion of Lewis Gunn's, Records of a California Family (page 217) since Gunn describes the emigrants after arriving in Sonora having crossed the Sierras using the unforgiving Sonora Pass route. One can tell he completely enjoyed doing his research through his fine style of writing and comparative photographs. The book is not "insuperable" by any means for the average reader. Excellent!

Scholarly yes, dry absolutely. I know the author is a Professor, but you need to appeal to your readers. There was some good research into this book, and it is obvious the author traversed some of the roads himself. However, why not elaborate on some of the tales of those emigrants coming into California. This was a relatively short book, but it took me nearly four days for me to read. That said, the author explores new ground on the hardships of people going overland to California. This is a story that needs telling.This book is for those interested in California history. It is more focused toward the academic audience, and a general reader has to have a great desire to learn more about this subject.

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