Title: To California by Covered Wagon
Author: George R. Stewart
Series: Landmark Books
Major Themes: Oregon Trail, California Trail, California, Nevada, Covered Wagons, Pioneers
Synopsis: A teenage boy journeyed from Missouri to California in the first wagon train to go all the way through, and then wrote the story later.
In 1988, when I was in my early teens, our local library discarded most of their older children’s books. As far as we were concerned, that was a bad deal for the patrons of the library—but a good deal for us, because we snapped up piles of them at 25c each! One of the one I scored was To California by Covered Wagon, a Landmark book printed in 1954. A year later, when my family went on a month-long road trip from Michigan to California, we took this book along and read it aloud. We actually drove along part of the route that is described in the book!
Mose Schallenberger was 17 years old in 1844 when he joined a wagon train that hoped to get through to California from Missouri. His older sister and her husband, who had taken him in when their parents died 11 years previous to this trip, were in the group as well. They left Council Bluffs, Iowa, in May of that year—and their first adventure involved getting across the Missouri River! Imagine trying to cross it with a lot of wagons and hundreds of oxen and other cattle. What a task! The next, also interesting, story had to do with standing guard at night…imagine two 17-year-old boys given that job and what they might think up to do to relieve their boredom.
More adventures awaited the party, and Mose, as they traveled on west. Finding buffalo, losing guns. Trying a shortcut, but running out of water. Getting information from Indians, and finding a river that disappeared. Then, they reached the Sierra Nevada mountains—and it began to snow. I think my boys found this part of the book the most interesting part; it was here that I was begged for “Just one more chapter, please!”
The author based To California by Covered Wagon very closely on Mose’s account of the journey, which he wrote down about 40 years later. He seems to have described events pretty well, and George R. Stewart did a very good job of making a very interesting adventure story from Mose’s account. Unfortunately, this book seems to be long since out of print, but if you can find a used copy it’s well worth picking it up. This is one of those wonderful 1950s books that hasn’t been dumbed down like so many modern books!
Read Aloud—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, Family Read Alouds
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, 12 – 15