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Thomas Hart Benton. BOLT OF LIGHTNING. 1945. Watercolor. 814" x 5 14". Museum of Nebraska Art Collection. First serialized in the Knickerbocker magazine in 1847-1849, later booklength editions of Francis Parkman’s The Oregon Trail feature illustrations by renowned artists. Frederick Remington provided over six dozen blackand -white sketches for the 1892 edition. These were replaced by color paint­ ings by N. C. Wyeth in 1925 and William H. Jackson in 1931. In 1943, color paintings and line drawings by Maynard Dixon illustrated the text. Thomas Hart Benton’s watercolors accompanied the 1945 edition of the book. F r a n c i s P a r k m a n ’s T h e O r e g o n T r a i l A N D TH E U S - M E X I C A N WAR: A p p r o p r i a t i o n s o f C o u n t e r - I m p e r i a l D i s s e n t N i c h o l a s L a w r e n c e The period spanning the Indian Removal A ct of 1830 and the U S ' Mexican War (1846-1848) involved a dramatic spike in U S readers’ appetite for all things western. While frontier fiction and captivity narratives continued to thrive, a comparable demand for nonfiction literatures of the West emerged, lending mainstream status to previously esoteric genres including Native American ethnography, historiography, botany, and ornithology. Most prominent were travel writings, which by 1848 obtained enough currency with publishing houses and literary magazines that a Holdens Dollar Magazine reviewer quipped, “Everybody travels now-a-days, ... and everybody that travels writes a book” (qtd. in Johannsen 147). Appearing only a month after the conclusion of the US-Mexican War, the exasperated reviewer’s comment unwittingly pointed up the negotiative intersect between travel literature and imperialism. If the war climactically emblemized the antebellum United States’ expan­ sionist zeal, citizens’ concurrent taste in books suggested the presence of a pervasive desire to rationalize that zeal in the most benign terms. Throughout the 1830s and ’40s, male and female frontier travel writers typically constructed their narratives in ways that bought into the idea of expansionist doctrine as inextricable from U S identity. A t the same time, many such writers also allowed space for the ventilation of counter-imperial registers and memes; even the most triumphalist works tended to include descriptions and anecdotes reflecting an acute apprehension of the moral transgressions and practical dilemmas bred by westward expansion. This essay discusses Francis Parkman’s The Oregon Trail (1849) as an exemplary artifact of such rhetorical double-dealing, focusing in particular on methods by which Parkman, while upholding a mainline, spread-eagle, patriotic endorsement of the United States’ W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L i t e r a t u r e 4 3 .4 (W i n t e r 2 0 0 9 ) : 3 7 3 -9 1 3 7 4 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n l it e r a t u r e W i n t e r 2 0 0 9 first official foreign war, appropriated the controversies and negative associations surrounding it. Before addressing the nature of The Oregon Trail’s engagement with the US-Mexican War, however, it will be helpful to begin by stressing the highly inflammatory status of the war and of expansionism more generally in the antebellum public mind. Nineteenth-century Americans’ ven­ eration for federalism did not easily square with a foreign policy designed to increase the potency and reach of Washington, DC, and citizens were loathe to conceive of themselves as complicit with outright imperial­ ism— an idea associated with European (particularly British) monar­ chal rule. In Mr. Polk’s War, historian John H. Schroeder has shown that for many, the war substantiated fears that “the democratic virtue and idealism of an earlier age had now been swept aside by a tide of pervasive materialism, grasping expansionism, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 373-391
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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