Louisiana and the West

Louis Hennepin, Description de la Louisiane Paris: Widow of Sebastien Huré, 1683.  Original McGregor Library (A 1683 .H45)

In 1675 Hennepin was sent from his native Belgium to New France, where he soon exchanged the life of Franciscan missionary for that of explorer. From 1678 to 1679 Hennepin accompanied La Salle on an expedition through the Great Lakes and into the Illinois country. At La Salle’s request, Hennepin then explored the upper Mississippi as far north as present-day Minneapolis, where he was detained for a time by Sioux Indians. Hennepin’s adventures are chronicled in this famous work, which for the first time assigned the name “Louisiana” to the Mississippi region, which is depicted with remarkable accuracy in the accompanying map.

James Madison, Postillon del Mensagero Luisianes del martes 11 de diciembre de 1810. [New Orleans, 1810]  Acquired ca. 1960 (Broadside 1810 .U6)

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase was followed by years of diplomatic disputes over the Louisiana Territory’s unclear boundaries. West Florida, a strip of land running east from the Mississippi to Pensacola, was a contested region that Spain insisted it had never relinquished. In September 1810, American settlers captured the Spanish garrison at Baton Rouge and established the new Republic of West Florida, installing Virginian Fulwar Skipwith as president. President Madison countered with this proclamation annexing West Florida to the United States. The broadside was published as an “extra” to the New Orleans Spanish-language newspaper, El Mensagero Luisianés.

James B. Marsh, Four years in the Rockies; or, The adventures of Isaac P. Rose New Castle, Pa.: W. B. Thomas, 1884.  Original McGregor Library (A 1884 .M37)

In 1834 19-year-old Isaac Rose left his northwest Pennsylvania home for frontier adventure. His timing was ideal. In St. Louis he joined Nathaniel Wyeth’s landmark expedition that opened Oregon to American settlement. Out west Rose worked as a fur trapper alongside such famed “mountain men” as Kit Carson and Jim Bridger before an injury compelled his return home. After four quiet decades as an educator, county official, and legendary storyteller, Rose committed his adventures to print. Although adorned with recreated dialogue and perhaps an embellished fact or two, Rose’s memoir remains a vivid and valuable eyewitness account.

John Coleman Reid, Reid's tramp, or, A journal of the incidents of ten months travel through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Sonora, and California Selma, Ala.: John Hardy & Co., 1858.  Original McGregor Library (A 1858 .R45)

Reid’s lively narrative is one of the best early descriptions of life in southern Arizona and New Mexico, which the United States acquired in 1854 through the Gadsden Purchase. In 1856 Reid left Alabama with a reconnaissance party heading overland to San Diego through Texas and Arizona. On reaching California Reid enlisted in Henry Crabb’s filibustering expedition, which set out for Sonora intending to overthrow its government. Reid’s narrative vividly conveys the excitement and risk-taking of Crabb’s adventurers. Reid, who wisely turned back shortly before Crabb’s forces were ruthlessly wiped out, returned home to Alabama where this very rare work was published.

Alonzo Delano, Pen knife sketches; or, Chips of the Old Block. Sacramento: Union Office, 1853.  Original McGregor Library (A 1853 .D44)

In search of improved fortune, Delano undertook the arduous overland journey to California in 1849. After a time in the mining camps, Delano found a perfect outlet for his talents: chronicling the Gold Rush experiences of California’s Forty Niners in humorous newspaper sketches. “Old Block’s” popular stories were soon collected and published in boom-town Sacramento, with wood-engraved illustrations after drawings by the “California Cruikshank,” Charles Nahl. Depicted here is the Greenhorn’s loss of innocence: alone in the wild, dog-tired, sore, and dispirited that gold is hard to find.

A. S. Mercer, The banditti of the plains; or, The cattlemen's invasion of Wyoming in 1892. [Denver?, 1894]  Original McGregor Library (A 1894 .M43)

In 1892 the deadly Johnson County Range War broke out when a group of wealthy Wyoming ranchers engaged a band of hired killers to root out suspected cattle rustlers. Caught in the crossfire and often unjustly targeted, small ranchers fought back until the U. S. Cavalry restored an uneasy truce. In this impassioned account, Mercer takes the underdog’s side. Improvised weapons included the “Go-Devil, or Ark of Safety” shown here: a captured wagon fortified with logs to form a mobile breastwork. Forty armed men could safely advance behind this jury-rigged assault vehicle.