Argonauts and the Overland Trail Experience: Method and Theory

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Western Historical Quarterly






Western Historical Quarterly, Utah State University

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In the spring of 1849 John Evans Brown and his young companions from North Carolina set off on the adventure of their lives-to cross the continent by horse and wagon and find gold in the new El Dorado of California. In the exuberance of youth, Brown recorded his hopes and fears before passing out of "civilization" and into the "wilds": "All is work and excitement and proving ourselves men, leaving family and friend to go amongst the wilds. Who can tell which or how many will fall by disease, an Indian arrow or the several dangers that will beset our path, but to the West we have set our faces, and to the West we go." Determined to face whatever hardships the trail had to offer and make his place in adult society, Brown set out to "see the Elephant." He observed the pachyderm well before he reached the goldfields of California-the hardship, difficulty, and struggle to survive so often described by other overlanders as the real "Elephant" of the gold rush.


Originally published by the Western Historical Quarterly at Utah State University. Publisher's PDF and article fulltext available through remote link via JSTOR.
Note: This publication won the Bert M. Fireman Prize. It was also reprinted in - New Directions in California History: A Book of Readings.