The Oregon Trail, by Francis Parkman, Illustrated by Maynard Dixon, Limited Editions Club

The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life (also published as The California & Oregon Trail) is one of my favorite works of history. Combining adventure, readability and history into a true work of literature, this book pulls the reader into it’s setting like few works of history ever accomplish. The book is Francis Parkman’s account of his two month tour through the American West (I should say ‘west’ at the time of his writing, midwest today, as his travels were through Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas). Much of the book centers on three weeks he spent with the Oglala Sioux hunting buffalo.

Francis Parkman (1823-1893) is one of the great writer/historians in American history.  Besides The Oregon Trail, he is also well known for his seven volume France and England in North America.  While his works are still valued as history, they have crossed the realm into being especially known first and foremost as great literature. Parkman was also a leading horticulturist, even was a professor of such at Harvard. Parkman’s accomplishment are impressive; more so when you realize that he had a neurological illness which he suffered from his entire life. This illness often made walking impossible, and for long stretches at a time he was more of less blind.  He often wrote without being able to see, dictating to others to do the writing for him.  Similarly, research was often done by having people read to him.

Previous to The Oregon Trail, to be a serious historian in America meant studying and writing about European or classical history.  Parkman’s work was so successful that by the end of his life writing history of America itself became the ‘in’ thing to do.  When reading Parkman, remember that it was a time in America where Manifest Destiny was paramount.  Like most American’s at the time, Parkman believed that the conquest of the West and over American Indians represented the march of civilization. Perhaps not ‘PC’ in today’s day and age, but it is refreshing to get pulled within the national confidence that drove so much of American history; confidence that is sorely lacking today.

The Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition of The Oregon Trail is fantastic, one of their true outstanding pairings of book subject and artist. Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) was a great twentieth century American artist, whose work often depicted the American West. Though his early work was impressionist, he soon developed a modern style, with lots of color, emphasis on design, and only including essential elements in his compositions. Yet, he retained a realism and a sense of landscape that is perfectly reflected in his work for this edition. The book itself, with it’s rustic full leather binding and sturdy pages, feels like it could have come right out of Parkman’s saddlebag when returning from his adventure!

About the Edition

  • Illustration and signed by Maynard Dixon
  • Edited from Parkman’s notebook’s by Mason Wade
  • Printed at Braddleboro, Vermont by E.L. Hildreth & Company
  • Limited to 1500 copies, this one being #660
  • I do not have the Monthly Letter so am lacking other information on this volume; if you have a copy please contact me.

Pictures

The Oregon Trail, LEC, Slipcase
The Oregon Trail, LEC, Book Inside of Chemise
The Oregon Trail, LEC, Detail of Front Cover
The Oregon Trail, LEC, Cover and Spine
The Oregon Trail, LEC, Side View
The Oregon Trail, LEC, End Pages
The Oregon Trail, LEC, Title Page
The Oregon Trail, LEC, Sample Page with Text
The Oregon Trail, LEC, Sample Pages with Text and Illustration
The Oregon Trail, LEC, Second Sample Pages with Text and Illustration
The Oregon Trail, LEC, Third Sample Pages with Text and Illustration
The Oregon Trail, LEC, Two Page Illustration
The Oregon Trail, LEC, Fourth Sample Pages with Text and Illustration
The Oregon Trail, LEC, Colophon

5 thoughts on “The Oregon Trail, by Francis Parkman, Illustrated by Maynard Dixon, Limited Editions Club

      1. Now I was there about 3 weeks ago – it is a lovely town, right on the border of the river that divides New Hampshire from Vermont. It reminded me a good deal of Santa Cruz, California, where I lived for many years – clearly its politics are leftish, and the town wears them on its sleeve. More men with grey ponytails than I have seen in a long time!! Its got several bookstores as well. A very nice mystery specialty store on the main drag, as well as a counterculture type store a block or so away, and 2 or 3 nice used store. Unfortunately, the biggest book store they had burned down recently, and I don’t know that they have decided what they are going to do. All in all though, a nice place to spend a half a day or so….. I’ll look forward to going back.

  1. Everytime I read one of your posts, I have to grab my LEC since some I have not had opened for some time. I have had The Oregon trail for only about a year, but I read the EP version sometime ago. I had forgotten about the color paintings. These were printed process offset (CMYK), breaking with Macy’s prediliction of using many spot colors (as he did in books like The Last of the Mohicans, a beautiful book which I have rebound). Also, the type was linotype, again breaking from his tradition of handset type. Linotype is considered letter press by some since the type directly hits the paper, but it doesn’t have the beauty of hand set type and the bite into the paper is not as deep.

    The binding is called out as saddle leather which I assume is cowhide, probably not calfskin. the decorations were burned into the leather and I’m not sure how they did this on 1500 copies; My info comes from the Bibliography since I dont have the Monthly Letter either,

    I do agree with you about Francis Parkman’s writing. He was an undergraduate when he travelled wetst ostensibly for his health. I couldn’t put the book down and read it over a three day period. This was way before Custer, but living with Indians was still a dangerous thing. He managed to exist though, even eating some dogs, considered a delicacy (usually puppies) by the Indians.

    My copy is a little rubbed on the bottom of the boards, but not rubbed clear through. I used a leather preservative on the book and made it somewhat shiny again. The slipcase and chemise were shot, so I threw them away. I don’t know why Macy used these, and I have never liked them (chemise I mean). I remade the slipcase and covered the outside with a bookcloth of a rust color. the inside I lined with French velour a light tan color. I made and affixed a rear label to the slipcase giveng the title, author, and LEC publishing date (1943). It is just a paper label printed in colors from a computer, but it looks professional. When I start making slipcases and solanders for books I have rebound, I don’t know what I will do. Leather labels with gold lettering are about $50 each..

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