Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - July - 2004 Issue

Western Americana From William Reese

Western Americana from William Reese Co.


By Michael Stillman

William Reese Company’s
232nd catalogue is a collection of “Western Americana.” The West was conquered a long time ago. You can cross from the Mississippi to the Pacific in a day or two via the interstate without ever being attacked by Indians or held up by outlaws, except maybe at the gas pump. Still, there was a time, and this catalogue will bring you back to those days when the West was young, an unknown land belonging to the Indians and a few explorers and trappers. Here is the West as it was, seen by contemporary eyes, rather than 20th century Hollywood. These are a few samples.

We might as well start at the beginning, or at least as close as we can. Andres Perez de Ribas was a Spanish Jesuit who traveled to the New World to proselytize the natives in 1604. He was evidently quite good at it and converted many of the Indians. He returned to Rome in 1643 and wrote a history of Jesuit activities from 1590-1644 in Mexico and what would become the American Southwest. Contemporary histories of the area from this period are almost nonexistent. Published in 1645, Historia de los Triumphos de Nuestra Santa Fee… is item 172 in this catalogue. Priced at $45,000.

Zebulon Pike’s expedition of 1805-07 is not as well remembered as Lewis and Clark’s of almost the same time, but it was to the American Southwest what the latter’s journey was to the Northwest. Fortunately, Pike is still remembered by the peak which bears his name (ironically, while he saw the peak, he never actually climbed it). He reached that peak as part of his explorations of the source of the Arkansas River. He also traveled the Red River, explored the Mississippi, and the Spanish settlements in New Mexico. His book, An Account of Expeditions to the Sources of the Mississippi…, was published in 1810. Item 175. $25,000.

An even less well remembered travel narrative comes from Reverend Samuel Parker, a preacher who accompanied the American Fur Company’s expeditions to Oregon in 1835. The Reverend went to save the native population, but also brought back much information about this territory, which he presented in his 1838 book. His journey took him from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Walla Walla in what is now Washington State. In a time when most people had little sympathy for the natives, Reverend Parker understood their plight. He states, “While we charge the Indians with inveterate ferociousness and inhuman brutality, we forget the too numerous wrongs and outrages committed upon them, which incite them to revenge...When Indian offenses are proclaimed, we hear only one side of the story, and the other will not be heard until the last great day.” His book is a Journal of an Exploring Tour Beyond the Rocky Mountains… Item 170. $750.

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