Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
originally published 1952
Puffin Newberry Library, 2nd printing, 1988
Genre: Young adult, children’s lit, juvenalia, Oregon history, adventure story
Synopsis & Review: Jim Keath has lived for six years as a Crow Indian when he learns that his two younger brothers and a sister are journeying west to take up land. Although Jim finds it difficult to fit in with the family he hasn’t seen since childhood, and though they are wary and distrustful of him, Jim feels his duty is at their side. But slowly, as they survive the dangerous trek west, the perils of frontier life, and the kidnapping of their younger brother, Jim and his family realize that the only way to survive is to accept each other and truly reunite the family.
At the age of ten, Jim Keath had run away from his Missouri home to follow his Uncle Adam Russell into the mountains of the West. A bear’s attack separated Jim from his uncle, and though he killed the bear, it nearly killed him, too. Only the compassion of the Crow who found him and adopted him into their tribe saved Jim’s life. He spent the next six years with the Crow, before a vague sense of dissatisfaction sent him out into the mountains on his own. Trapping beaver with a friend, mountain man Tom Rivers, Jim wanders through the Rockies, unsure of what he seeks. Shortly before winter, a letter finds its way to Jim, from his younger brother Jonnie, who he hasn’t seen or heard from since he left home all those years before.
From the time I was three till I was thirteen, I spent every summer save one with my dad on the Mainland. He lived with my stepmother and my little sister in Portland, Oregon; Gina owned Beaverton Books, and then later worked for the Oregon Historical Society (don’t worry, this is relevant). My dad liked to think of himself as the Wild Man of the Western Wilderness, or at least, that was my perception; he had a lot of his identity and self-image tied up in the manly arts of fishing, backpacking, and camping (curiously, not hunting), and as a consequence, we took many camping trips on those summer visits.
We camped all over the West—at least, in what he considered the West (California was never a part of the equation, nor was the Southwes) exploring the Pacific Coast Ranges and the Rockies, both American and Canadian. Sometimes I hated it, the drudgery of campsite chores and the inconveniences of reading by flashlight, or cleaning dishes and going potty in the wilderness. But most of the time, I loved it. I loved seeing places utterly unlike Hawai’i (though I would invariably get irate when he’d disparage Hawaii’s mountain ranges; they’re DIFFERENT is all, Dad! Jeez!). I loved being so far from the civilized or developed world, miles and miles from the next human being. I loved the quiet, the sounds of the trees or the wind or a nearby crick, of animals moving through the brush (Is that Sasquatch?! RUN!). Read the rest of this entry »