The Westward Expansion: An Annotated      

  Bibliography Dealing with Books About the  

  Pioneers Traveling West Toward a New Life












                                                                                                            Angela Araujo

                                                                                                            English 112 B

                                                                                                            Prof. Warner

                                                                                                            8 December 2004


            Historical fiction and non-fiction has always been one of my favorite genres to read. According to Literature for Today’s Young Adults, “reading historical novels satisfies our curiosity about other times, places, and people, and even more important, it provides adventure, suspense, and mystery” (Donelson 225). I have always been fascinated with the way that people lived, especially during the 1800s. During this time in history, there were a great number of people who decided that they wanted to explore the West. At that point, the West was anywhere past Independence or St. Louis Missouri.

            By reading books about this particular time in history, readers are able to place themselves in this situation and think about how life must have been for those living on the trails leading west, “there is no better way to teach history than to embrace potential readers and fling them into a living past”(Donelson 227). Teaching history to students by simply stating facts and important dates is boring and not productive.

            By using historical novels, both fiction and nonfiction, students are able to experience firsthand what actually happened, “historical novels can take readers any place they want to go-or fear to go-and in any time period they would like” (Donelson 230). By learning about these historical events in a fun and interactive way, it will make it possible for students to actually enjoy history and think of it as something more than an event that took place a long time ago.

            I personally am interested in the Westward expansion to California and the Gold Rush era. I think it’s sad that many students in the state of California do not know about the rich history of the state, and few know where Sutter’s Mill is and why it is of significance. However, the impact of the Westward expansion has an effect on not only Californians, but on the rest of the country as well.

            For this assignment, I chose books that are focused on these particular families, people, and events that are associated with the Westward Expansion. There are books of people moving West to Oregon and California, the story of the Donner party, tales of cowboys driving their cattle West, and the role that women had in shaping this new Frontier. Some books are fiction, while the majority of them are nonfiction accounts, based on actual letters, diary entries, and newspaper articles. So begins the story of the thousands of pioneer men, women and children, all leaving their homes in search of a new life in a new land.


Booth, Edwin. John Sutter: Californian. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963.

            “This book gives much information about Sutter, Sutter’s Fort, and early American maneuverings in California. It is non-fiction, and recommended for students in grades 7-8”. Quoted from Wright’s Golden Poppies: An Annotated Bibliography of California Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction for Young Readers.

            I chose this book because Sutter is one of the main figures in the history of California. The discovery of gold at his mill in Coloma, California is what led to the start of the Gold Rush and the movement of people to California.


Donelson, Kenneth L. & Alleen Pace Nilsen. Literature for Today’s Young Adults. 7th             Edition. Boston: Pearson Education Inc., 2001.


Gale Literary Databases: Contemporary Authors Online. Gale Group, 2003. 7 Dec.             2004. Http: //             =DataType&n=10&l=d&c=2&locID=csusj&secondary=false&u=CA&t=KW&s=          2&NA =mcmurtry


Hall, Brian. I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company: A Novel of Lewis and             Clark. Viking, 2003.

            “Brian tells the story of the famous expedition from the viewpoints of Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, and her interpreter husband. Jealously erupts when Clark learns that President Jefferson had clearly chosen Lewis as the expedition’s leader”. Quoted in Donelson’s Literature for Today’s Young Adults, Page 237.

            I chose this book because Lewis and Clark are the people responsible for starting the entire Westward expansion. They were the first people to go out into the wilderness and find a trail that would lead them to the West Coast. No bibliography based on Westward Expansion should leave these two very important figures out.



Jubilee Trail. New York: Crowell, 1969.

            “The Jubilee Trail was the traders’ name for the great Spanish Trail, which in the 1840’s led from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. ‘This absorbing story giving a thrilling picture of the foundation on which our West was built is heartily recommended to teenagers and adults’”. Quoted from Wright’s Golden Poppies: An Annotated Bibliography of California Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction for Young Readers.

            According to Wright, this fiction book is appropriate for grades 7 and up. I chose this book because it provides a different view to how the West was built. It gives an inside look at how traders and workers moved from the Southern part of the U.S. to California in hopes of finding new jobs.


Lasky, Kathryn. Home Page.22 Dec. 2003. 7 Dec. 2004  


Lasky, Kathryn. Beyond the Divide. Macmillan, 1983.

            “Meribah Simon can no longer live at home. The Amish community she has grown up in is suffocating her. The strict rules she has always followed feel like walls closing in around her. And to make matters worse, her father has been shunned by the elders of the community. She can’t talk to him, spend time with him, or even acknowledge that he exists. Meribah can’t stand it anymore, but where can she go and how will she survive in a world she barely understands? Then Meribah discovers her father is leaving to join the gold rush. Now is her chance. She’ll go with him and find a place where she can live feely, as she chooses. A place beyond the divide. This is the story of Meribah’s journey. It’s a story about friendship, betrayal, and love. It’s a story about life”. Quoted from Lasky’s Website.  

            "The versatile Lasky has written a quintessential pioneer story, a piece so textured and rich that readers will remember it long after they've put it down...An elegantly written tour de force". Quoted from Booklist starred review, as noted on Lasky’s Website.

            I chose this book because it gave the perspective of the move across the country through the eyes of a young girl. This book in particular caught my attention in the first place because it has been named on of the ALA Best Books for Young Adults, as well as one of the New York Times 10 Best Young Adult Books.


McLynn, Frank. Wagons West. Grove, 2002.                                                                                  “McLynn describes the first overland wagon train to California in 1841 (and later ones as well) along with all the irritations and terrors of the journey across America”. Quoted from Donelson’s Literature for Today’s Young Adults, Page 237.

            I chose to use this book because it was listed in one of the Focus Boxes in our textbook, entitled “Westerns Too Tough to Die” (Donelson 237). It seemed interesting to me because it is a nonfiction depiction of the way that it actually was for the wagon trains to head out West.


McMurtry, Larry. Lonesome Dove. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985.            “Lonesome Dove, McMurtry's 800-page, 1985 release, not only returns to the author's native state for its setting…but also concerns the brief cattle drive era that has proven the focus of much of the Western romantic mystique. McMurtry told the New York Times Book Review that the novel ‘grew out of my sense of having heard my uncles talk about the extraordinary days when the range was open,’ a subject the author had previously addressed only in his nonfiction. According to the reviewers, a strong advantage to the book is the author's objective presentation of frontier life. As George Garrett explained in the Chicago Tribune Book World, Lonesome Dove contains ‘the authority of exact authenticity. You can easily believe that this is how it really was to be there, to live, to suffer and rejoice, then and there. And thus, the reader is most subtly led to see where the literary conventions of the Western came from, how they came to be in the first place, and which are true and which are false.’ New York Times Book Review contributor Nicholas Lemann also wrote of Lonesome Dove, ‘Everything about the book feels true; being anti-mythic is a great aid to accuracy about the lonely, ignorant, violent West’. This anti-mythic foundation in the novel, according to Lemann, ‘works to reinforce the strength of the traditionally mythic parts . . . by making it far more credible than the old familiar horse operas’.                                                                                       

            Lonesome Dove achieved best-seller status within weeks of its release and was a critical success as well…Newsweek's Walter Clemons claimed…‘It's a pleasure . . . to be able to recommend a big popular novel that's amply imagined and crisply, lovingly written. I haven't enjoyed a book more this year’. Lonesome Dove was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1986”. Quoted from Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003.

            This book I chose to be the main text for a number of reasons. First of all, it can be read by a wide variety of ages, from young adults just starting high school, to adults of any age. It is easy to understand and perhaps the most daunting thing about it is its 800 pages. However, it has won numerous awards, received countless articles praising both the work itself as well as the author, and has won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It is filled with rich details, and according to the critics, accurately describes life on the range.


McMurtry, Larry. Sin Killer: A Novel. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.               “Larry McMurtry's Sin Killer is a wildly entertaining ride through the untamed Great Plains. The first installment of a proposed tetralogy, The Berrybender Narratives, Sin Killer follows the adventures of the Berrybender's, a large, noble English family traveling the Missouri River in 1832. This deeply self-absorbed and spoiled family leaves England for the unknown of the American West, based solely on a "whim" and Lord Berrybender's desire to "shoot different animals from those he shot at home." The novel joins the family as they make their way toward Yellowstone aboard a luxury steamer, accompanied by a motley assemblage of servants, guides, and natives. Along the way, this "floating Europe" and its bickering, stubborn passengers encounter constant adversity, including warring natives, hellacious weather, accidental deaths, and kidnappings.                                                                                                                           Thanks largely to Sin Killer's gallery of colorful personalities, McMurtry keeps most of the action firmly in the realm of fish-out-of-water farce. One such character is the independent and opinionated eldest daughter Tasmin, who, frustrated by her family's conventions, escapes the steamer, whereupon she meets and falls in love with Jim Snow, a.k.a. Sin Killer. Snow, an Indian killer raised by natives, is a stoical, God-fearing man who won't tolerate blasphemy. With prose that flows as naturally as the Missouri, McMurtry weaves together a large cast and vast setting into a thoroughly exciting, hilarious adventure novel. Though Sin Killer focuses on a love story and contains plenty of realistic violence, McMurtry's efficient voice and matter-of-fact perspective leaves little room for tragedy or sentimentality, instead emphasizing high comedy. This is wonderful storytelling from a narrator in perfect agreement with his subject. Sin Killer should please McMurtry's many fans, who now have much to look forward to”. Ross Doll as quoted from

            This book was chosen because it gave a different perspective to the westward movement. This viewpoint was coming from a family who not only moved from a different state, but they came from an entirely different country. I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast this book with that of a family that was already living in the United States.


Murphy, Virginia Reed & James Reed. Across the Plains in the Donner Party. North             Haven: Linnet Books, 1996.

            “Based upon the newspaper memoir of Virginia Reed (Murphy), age 12 at the time, this book relates the Donner debacle from carefree leave- taking in Illinois to final rescue of the forty-six survivors. Letters of James Reed, who was banished from the wagon train for murder, are spliced in, as are diary excerpts from Patrick Breen, who faithfully recorded weather, starvation, death, and cannibalism at the snowbound hovels. The Donner story is rich with questions for any reader. Were these pioneers brave or foolhardy? Greedy for Mexican land in California, or restless for manifest destiny...And was it the impatience or American ingenuity that made them choose a “short-cut” which added a fatal month to their journey…were the very qualities that brought them down the ones that saved some in the end?” Quoted from the book jacket.

            I chose to use this book because it was based on actual diary entries and letters from some family members who survived the trip involving the Donner Party. It has pictures which help to illustrate exactly what it is that the writer is describing and gives the readers an inside look to how life was like for those members of the Donner Party who were stuck in the middle of one nowhere in the dead of winter.


Ross, Nancy Wilson. Heroines of the Early West. New York: Random House, 1960.

            “The stories are based on diaries and letters of pioneer women who traveled thousands of miles across unknown lands to help develop our country. One story is about Sacagawea, a young Indian girl who guided Lewis and Clark. Another is about Abigail Scott Duniway, who fought for equal rights for women, and one is Sister Mary Loyola, who journeyed from Belgium to Oregon to bring religion to the Indians”. Quoted from Wright’s Golden Poppies: An Annotated Bibliography of California Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction for Young Readers.

            This Non-fiction book is recommended for an intermediate reading level, which is about grades 4-6. Even though this book is for younger readers, I wanted to include it because it is a book based solely on women pioneers. Women did not have many rights during this time and it is important for students to learn that they also had an affect on the building of the West.


Wadsworth, Ginger. Words West: Voices of Young Pioneers. New York: Clarion             Books, 2003.

“Between 1830 and 1870, tens of thousands of pioneers hit the trail in covered wagons, leaving behind everything they had ever known and heading for an uncertain future in the American West. Many of these pioneers were children and young people. Along the way they often encountered severe heat and extreme cold, hostile Indians, terrible illnesses, the death of loved ones, and hunger greater than they could have imagined. But they were also witness to the great and wild beauty of the untouched West, and shared in a unique and wondrous experience that helped shape the United States. Here are the moving stories of these young pioneers, told through letters home, diaries, and memoirs. Their writings, presented in a clear and accessible fashion and accompanied by dramatic archival photographs and prints, provide a window into what life on the trail was truly like”. Quoted from the book jacket.

            I think this was one of my favorite books because it gives this topic a sense of realism. This particular book is a collection of stories, letters, drawings, and poems from children and young adults who experienced life moving West firsthand. It really draws its readers in and lets them get a real feel for what it was actually like to live life the ways that they did.


Wright, Dorothy Pritchard & Faye Brown Morrison. Golden Poppies: An Annotated             Bibliography of California Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction for Young             Readers. Cupertino: California History Center, 1980.