The French Connection to the Old West
Wilson Hunt’s expeditions took place in 1811-12. Hunt partnered with John Jacob Astor in the fur trade, which brought him to Oregon’s Fort Astoria in 1812. The fur trade was a competitive business in those days as various companies sought an advantage. Fortunately, Hunt kept a diary of his travels, and would publish them almost ten years later in Paris. Not surprisingly, having been published in Paris in French, his journal did not become a bestseller in America. It is very rare. Only three references to the original work show up in the ÆD. They are from the Soliday and Holliday collections in the 1940s and 1950s, and more recently from the Streeter sale in 1968. Parke Bernet described this volume accurately when preparing the catalogue for the Holliday sale. Even back in 1954 they described it as “excessively rare.” I find no copies offered for sale on Abebooks today.
However, I do find a translation in the ÆD, and for those undertaking research (especially those who don’t read French), this version is available. Not that it is overwhelmingly common. The Oregon Book Society published a limited edition translation in 1973, printing only 600 copies. If you can’t find one in your library, you can find five copies available today on Abebooks. There’s a copy available for $30 from Elder Tree Books in Ventura, California, one from Zubal Books in Cleveland for $34, and three others priced from $75-$100. Were it not for this 600-run 30-year-old printing from the Oregon Book Society, I’m not sure how an English-speaker could read this seminal Oregon Trail work.
Gabriel Franchere’s work displays a real contrast to Hunt’s. It is also very rare, but obviously not “excessively rare” as with his countryman’s book. It is listed as a “c” in Howes Usiana, qualifying it for great rarity. But then again, Hunt isn’t even listed in Howes, nor in Sabin. And while Franchere’s book will cost you many thousands of dollars, you may not be able to find a copy of Hunt’s. Finally, while Franchere’s book shows up in the ÆD as having been offered for sale twenty times, Hunt’s work shows up only three times. That last statistic tells us a lot about the rarity of Hunt’s book, considering that the Franchere is anything but commonplace.
Like Hunt, Franchere was also in the employ of John Jacob Astor and was one of those sent to establish Astoria. It was Franchere’s work that was the basis of Washington Irving’s better known title Astoria. Originally published in French at Montreal in 1820, an English translation was finally printed in 1854 in New York. By then 68-years-old, Franchere added some material to correct errors he found in Irving’s work. The translation is much more common.