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Sierra Crossing: First Roads to California Paperback – Oct 18 2000

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 226 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (Oct. 18 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520226860
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520226869
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.6 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From Library Journal

Howard (geography, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Georgia) offers a history of overland roads to California. Fur trappers and mountain men were the first European Americans to traverse the mountains, deserts, and passes. Their routes laid the foundation for wagon trains, overland stages, freight wagons, and, finally, the railroads. The elevation and snow of the Sierra Nevadas created great challenges for road builders, as did politics?both local and national. California cities vied to become terminuses, and sectional difficulties at the federal level postponed the building of a transcontinental railroad until the 1860s. With the completion of the Union Pacific in 1869, the nation was physically joined, the Western territories were secured, and the mineral wealth, agricultural lands, and seaports of California were now a part of the national system. Howard has used diaries, letters, newspapers, and official reports while also describing present conditions of many of California's first roads to produce an entertaining piece of scholarship. Recommended for all public libraries.?Patricia Ann Owens, Wabash Valley Coll., Mt. Carmel, IL
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

An academic study of the quest by explorers and later entrepreneurs to find a way over Californias mountain wall. Geographer Howard discusses a critical development in the history of California, the building of the first roads across the Sierra Nevada, tall and snow-blocked mountains that, even at their easier passes, still required days and even weeks to traverse. (The Truckee Pass, where the Donner party met its doom and where Interstate 80 now cuts through the Sierra, was especially difficult, and as Howard notes, the paralyzing effect of heavy snowfall remains a threat to trans-Sierra transportation even today.) After surveying the geography of montane California, Howard looks into the careers of the 19th-century explorers who first established various routes over the Sierra, notably Jedediah Smith, Joseph Walker, and John Charles Frmont, and at the rush to build true roads after the US government opened competitive bidding for mail delivery (Wells Fargo eventually won) and Congress passed the Wagon Road Act of 1857, a precursor of the modern federal highway system. Howard offers many interesting asides, some of them buried in endnotes, about the intense rivalries between Golden State cities and individuals to profit from the road-building enterprise. He also notes that with the advent of transcontinental railroads many of the earliest road builders efforts were undone, largely because the railroads had the resources to blast and tunnel their way over mountain grades that would have been impassible for horse-drawn wagons. Though well written, this book, born of the authors doctoral dissertation, will appeal only to a specialized audience. Even so, it is a solid if modest contribution to 19th-century Western history. (22 b&w photos, 3 maps, not seen) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
On the usage of the early American period, "the Sierras" denoted the great mountain barrier between the Central Valley of California and the "sagebrush plains" and "alkali flats"-these too were common designations on the maps of the time-that lay off to the east. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Paperback
Mr. Howard's book concerns itself almost exclusively with the "who" "when" and "where" of efforts to cross the Sierras into or out of California -- just as the title suggests.
I have a couple of complaints about the book, one of which represents my own subjective preference about what I would have liked the book to cover, but the other represents a shortcoming I suspect most readers would regard as a serious oversight.
First, I would have liked the book to describe more about the "how" of crossing the Sierras. A few passages describe the efforts of early travelers who made their way up into and over the mountains, across streams, past boulders, up and down cliffs, and so on. But not many. I would have liked a fuller accounting of that process, as well as the mechanics, financing, and logistics of early road-building efforts. That was not, however, the purpose of Mr. Howard's book.
My other complaint is more general. Maps are almost non-existent in a book that relies upon knowing where geographic references are, both in an absolute sense and in relationship to one another. Some of the references are relatively obscure, even to native Californians. (Others have been obscured, literally, by subsequent development; towns and lakes have disappeared under man-made reservoirs.) The (two!) maps in the book are unhelpful; I was forced to keep a AAA map at hand for reference. Each chapter, discussing a different series of routes, really should have had a detailed map showing each geographic point mentioned in the text.
Nevertheless, I would recommend this book to the narrow audience interested in early California history, and who are likely to travel in and around the Sierras to follow some of these historic routes. The text is not as dry as it could be, and the material is presented in encyclopedic fashion, making it accessible when returning to it later for cross-reference.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Very Interesting Book! Dec 7 2010
By D. Russell - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
Very enjoyable Dec 9 2008
By Poseur - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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!
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
First roads to California. May 22 2008
By Kevin M Quigg - Published on
Format: Paperback
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.