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Book of the Week — Narrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River

We have amongst our men, a great variety of dispositions. Some who have not been accustomed to the kind of life they are to lead in future, look forward to it with eager delight, and talk of stirring incidents and hair-breadth ‘scapes. Others who are more experienced seem to be as easy and unconcerned about it as a citizen would be in contemplating a drive of a few miles into the country. Some have evidently been reared in the shade, and not accustomed to hardships, but the majority are strong, able-bodied men, and many are almost as rough as the grizzly bears, of their feats upon which they are fond of boasting.

John K. Townsend (b. 1809)
Philadelphia; Boston: H. Perkins, 1839
F592 T68

John Kirk Townsend’s Narrative is based on a journal he kept while traveling to Oregon with Nathaniel Wyeth’s 1834 expedition, the two years he spent in Oregon, and his travels back to the east coast of the United States via Hawaii and Chile.
Born into a Philadelphia Quaker family, Townsend’s siblings were active in medicine and science. Three of his brothers were dentists, one was a philanthropist interested in prison reform. One sister wrote a book on insects for children, another wrote a history of England in verse.
John attended a boarding school where entomologist Thomas Say had also attended. Thomas Say later traveled with Edwin James on his western expedition. Townsend developed his skill at taxidermy and began collecting the birds of West Chester County, admired by John James Audubon.
Nathaniel Wyeth was a Massachusetts ice merchant who dreamed of establishing a fur trading company on the west coast. John Nuttall, a botanist, invited Townsend to join the expedition.
An appendix in this book cites Audubon’s Birds of America in its description of specimens procured on the expedition. Some of the skins brought back from the west by John Kirk Townsend and John Nuttall were given to Audubon by the Philadelphia Academy. Nuttall personally gave Audubon a few of the specimens he had gathered on the expedition.
Rare Books copy inscribed by the author to an Edwin Willcox.

For more narratives of the European encounter with the American West, see our exhibition The Roar of Distant Breakers.

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