In As Far as the Eye Could Reach, Phyllis S. Morgan presents a series of essays—most published previously in the journals Wagon Tracks or Reptiles—on human encounters with wild and domesticated animals along the Santa Fe Trail in the mid-19th century. In each of the book’s 13 chapters, Morgan integrates firsthand narratives of Euro-American travelers with diverse secondary sources, yielding informative, yet concise, descriptions of emblematic species of the American West—from bison to burros—and the ways in which people perceived and interacted with them over space and time.
Through these narratives, the reader is invited to experience the diversity of emotions associated with animal encounters on the trail: awe at the sight of immense herds and perhaps regret of their indiscriminate slaughter, fear at the sound of nighttime howling and close encounters with predators, amusement in the observation of barking and scurrying in prairie-dog towns, relief in the return of a lost mule or ox, remorse at the death of a loyal dog, and so on. Although historical, geographical, ecological, and environmental literature oft en focuses on the transformative effects Euro-American re-settlement had on North American species and ecosystems, accounts like these illustrate how species affected resettlement.
The referenced firsthand accounts cover an impressively broad spatial extent (present-day Franklin, Missouri, to Santa Fe, New Mexico), as well as a relatively long time period (1821–1880), both of which correspond with peak human use of the trail. Adjoined to these species-specific observations are complementary [End Page 147] descriptions from Native American perspectives, arrays of life-history information, estimates of population dynamics, and conservation prospects for the future. This additional information does not detract from the historical focus of the work, but rather builds a bridge between North American landscape conditions of the past (what they were), present (what they are), and future (what they could be). In this sense, these essays may be viewed as tributes to the species—whether currently common, rare, or extirpated—that once thrived in, and continue to shape, people’s perceptions of the country in the vicinity of the Santa Fe Trail. Furthermore, they may be useful for spurring broader discussions related to human-wildlife interactions in contemporary landscapes—now often referred to as social-ecological systems—being altered by global change.
This book is suitable for a variety of audiences, including those with interests in Euro-American resettlement of the American West, historical geographic distributions of species, adventure stories, land-use and land-cover change, historical modes of transportation, and the like. The casual reader will appreciate the organization of the book by species, the straightforward presentation of facts, and the fine storytelling. Although it may constitute a general overview for the more detail-oriented researcher, the wealth of references provide avenues for further in-depth investigations.
School of Natural Resources
University of Nebraska–Lincoln