Wyeth’s Rare Overland Account

78 [Oregon Trail] WYETH, John B. Oregon; or a Short History of a Long Journey from the Atlantic Ocean to the region of the Pacific, by land; drawn up from the notes and oral information of John B. Wyeth, one of the party who left Mr. Nathaniel J. Wyeth, July 28th, 1832, four days’ march beyond the ridge of the Rocky Mountains, and the only one who has returned to New England. Cambridge, Mass.: printed for John B. Wyeth, 1833. 12mo signed in sixes (7 5/8 x 5 inches). Half-title, title without the 1- line erratum slip pasted to the verso. Original paper wrappers, the upper wrapper border of black rules with the letterpress title in the central panel “Wyeth’s / Oregon / Expediton.” (Wrappers lacking the backstrip and the lower cover, small corner of cover missing) Within a later red cloth chemise, all within a two-part red morocco slipcase lettered in gilt. First edition of the “first printed account of the first emigrant party to cross the plains” (Howes), and a famed high spot of Western Americana. This important and rare record is a milestone in the history of the exploration and settlement of the West, being an account of the first overland expedition across America witnessed by John B. Wyeth. He was a member of the group of emigrants led by his cousin Nathaniel Wyeth. Webster Jones, OREGON ONE HUNDRED: “This is a frank and bitingly critical little book written by young John B. Wyeth with all the vitality and brashness of youth to expose some of the worst features of the fur trade and the ‘Oregon fever.’…His engaging report spares no one. It is important because it gives another side of the picture, too often over-glamorized. Long an exceedingly rare narrative, it is seldom found with wrappers.” Departing from Cambridge, Massachusetts, in March 1832, the party travelled overland (via New Orleans and St. Louis) to Oregon and the Rockies in search of riches in the fur trade: they successfully crossed the Rockies and got to within 400 miles of the Pacific. The inspiration for the venture seems to have been “Hall J. Kelley’s pamphlets on the colonization of Oregon … From Kelley’s accounts it appears that Nathaniel Wyeth, Dr. Jacob Wyeth, and several other members of the company had originally enrolled in Kelley’s emigrating society” (Wagner-Camp). According to Sabin and Wagner-Camp the narrative was edited and possibly written by Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse. This copy does not include the 1-line erratum slip that is pasted to the verso of the title in a few copies. It seems possible that its absence (as in the Streeter, Graff and Bancroft copies) is an indication of its being an early issue, before the errors were detected. The work is rare in any form, but particularly in wrappers. Graff 4763; Howes W717; Streeter sale 2091; Tweney 88; Wagner-Camp 47.

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