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[Emigration] [Overland]
Contributed: pre-2006

Platte River Road Narratives:

A Descriptive Bibliography of Travel

Over the Great Central Overland Route to Oregon

Contributed by Dan Mosier

Platte River Road Narratives A Descriptive Bibliography of Travel Over the Great Central Overland Route to Oregon.
Merrill J. Mattes, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

The Platte River Road was the path along the Platte River in Nebraska that emigrants traveled over on their journey westward. The author estimated that over 500,000 emigrants used the Platte River Road and this inspired him to compile a bibliography of the accounts of some of those emigrants. This bibliography is not just a list of references. It contains a description of significant points and observations, corrections and clarifications to misconceptions, and provides a wealth of historical and genealogical information. Thousands of accounts from diaries, logs, journals, notes, letters, and newspapers were consulted in libraries throughout the country. This book was designed to aid researchers in finding the best sources of information available on the Platte River Road history. The book starts out with an historical overview of the road followed by a geographical overview. A map is provided showing the emigrant trails. The bibliography is limited to the years 1812 to 1866. The accounts are arranged chronologically and for each year, the authors of the accounts are listed in alphabetical order. Each entry is composed of four parts as follows:

1. Heading, which contains the name of the author, sometimes listed as anonymous when unknown, a five star rating of historical and literary value, the type of source such as diary, and the library where the source was consulted plus a few other libraries.

2. Route and chronology, which gives a brief description of the departure and destination route with times of departure and arrival.

3. Content highlights, which provides information about a person, persons, or company, significant observations, landmarks, and newsworthy items.

4. Compiler's comments, which gives the merits and shortcomings of the narratives as well as clarifications and warnings of misleading information.

The index at the back of the book is nothing more than a tabulation of the entries mentioned above. The names of the authors are listed in alphabetical order along with abbreviated informations. This helps to find the author names which are not easy to locate in the bibliography. Here's a typical index entry:

"Brown, Elam 46/M R/P2 MO/CA STJ 1544"

"Brown, Elam" is the name of the author of a narrative
"46" is the year traveled
"M" is the sex
"R" is the type of source, which is recollection
"P" is publication
"2" is the star rating
"MO" is the departure state
"CA" is the arrival state
"STJ" is the Missouri River crossing, which stands for St. Joseph, Missouri
"1544" is the sequential identification number used to help find the person in the bibliography

A major shortcoming of this book is the lack of a complete name index. There are names of other emigrants mentioned in the narratives that are not indexed. The names of companies and landmarks are not indexed. A researcher will have to read all of the thousands of narratives to see if his ancestors were mentioned. If you had ancestors who journeyed overland to California between 1812 and 1866, check out this book.

Some California libraries that have the above item:

  • Berkeley, Berkeley Public Library, 978.2 M429g
  • Berkeley, University of California Berkeley Bancroft Library, F591.A12 M271 1988
  • Berkeley, University of California Berkeley Main Library, F591.A12 M271 1988
  • Campbell, Campbell Library, 917.8032 Mattes
  • Cupertino, Cupertino Library, 917.8032 Mattes
  • Davis, University of California Davis Shields Library, F593.M37 1988 Hum/SS Ref
  • Fremont, Fremont Main Library, 978.2 Mattes
  • Fullerton, California State University Fullerton Library, F591z M37 1988 circ
  • Hayward, California State University Hayward Library, F591.Y458 1989 oversized stack
  • Irvine, University of California Irvine Library, Z1251.W5 M37 1988
  • Los Angeles, University of California Los Angeles Spec Coll Library, Z 1251 W5M37 1988
  • Los Angeles, University of California Los Angeles University Research Library, Z 1251 W5M37 1988
  • Oakland, Oakland Main Library, 978 M429g10
  • Pleasanton, Pleasanton Branch Library, 978.2 Mattes
  • Riverside, University of California Riverside Rivera Library, Z1251.W5 M37 1988
  • Sacramento, California State Library, Z1251.W5 M37 1988 California, Z1251.W5 M37 1988 California Non Circ
  • San Diego, San Diego State University Library, F591.M57 1988 circ
  • San Francisco, California Historical Society Library, REF Z1251 .W5M37 1988
  • San Francisco, Sutro Library, Z1251.W5 M37 1988
  • Santa Barbara, University of California Santa Barbara Main Library, Z1251.W5 M37 1988, Z1251.W5 M37 1988 Special Coll
  • Santa Clara, Santa Clara Library, GS 917.8 M43
  • Santa Cruz, University of California Santa Cruz McHenry Library, Z1251.W5M37 1988 Reference
  • Saratoga, Saratoga Library, 917.8032 Mattes