Drifting West: The Calamities of James White and Charles Baker

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9780870818745: Drifting West: The Calamities of James White and Charles Baker
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During westward expansion in the nineteenth century, thousands of anonymous individuals drifted into the American West in search of opportunities in trapping and trading, prospecting and mining, military service, railroad construction, freighting, agriculture, town-building, and adventure. Few of these emigrants achieved sufficient notoriety for their names to be recalled today. Two exceptions are James White, who is said to have accidentally traversed the Grand Canyon on a makeshift raft two years prior to the first expedition of John Wesley Powell, and his erstwhile companion Charles Baker, who played a prominent role in prospecting in Colorado's San Juan Mountains in the 1860s.

The exploits of these two drifters and the ongoing debate about the veracity of the Grand Canyon story and other legendary adventures provide the basis for lively narrative history in Virginia McConnell Simmons's Drifting West.

Simmons's account, based on extensive research---from archival study to rafting and backpacking expeditions in the Grand Canyon---reveals the characters, fortunes, and misfortunes of these two adventurous men, examines the debate about White's alleged traverse of the Grand Canyon in relation to Powell's career, and offers a compelling portrait of the West as seen through the experiences of the two drifters. Maps, photographs, sketches, and historical data about the places White and Baker passed through enrich the text.

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About the Author:

Virginia McConnell Simmons is the author of Bayou Salado; The San Luis Valley; The Upper Arkansas, a Mountain River Valley; and The Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Review:

"Thankfully, McConnell does not dwell too long on the tired question, `Did White tell the truth?' She is more interested in why this New York-born, Wisconsin-raised man came west in the first place. Ultimately, she has written a biography of a drifter... Drifting West should appeal not only to river buffs but to lovers of mining history and Colorado history."

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