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U.S. History: Beginnings to 1877 - HIST201 - Primary Sources

Primary sources available in the library or on the Internet relevant to U.S. History before 1877.

Resources in Library Catalog

eBooks on this list are only available to RVCC students, faculty, and staff and require a login with your G# and password.

Account of an expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains

Original title pages read: Account of an expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, performed in the years 1819 and '20, by order of the Hon. J.C. Calhoun, Sec'y of War, under the command of Major Stephen H. Long. From these notes of Major Long, Mr. T. Say, and other gentlemen of the exploring party. Compiled by Edwin James, botanist and geologist for the expedition.

Across the continent.

During the spring and summer of 1865, Samuel Bowles, the noted editor of the Springfield "Republican," joined Schuyler Colfax, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, in a long trip across the continent through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, and thence back to San Francisco, where the party took ship for a return via the Isthmus of Panama. The journey was something of an official junket, with Colfax "inspecting" the west for a possible rail line, but it resulted in one of the most complete accounts of the region in the period immediately after the Civil War.

Adventures of the first settlers on the Columbia River

Original title page reads: Adventures of the first settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River; being a narrative of the expedition fitted out by John Jacob Astor, to establish the "Pacific Fur Company"; with an account of some Indian tribes on the coast of the Pacific.

Commerce of the prairies

This has been universally recognized as a classic depiction of south-western North America during the period of the Santa Fe trade. Since the book's first publication in New York in 1844, it has been reprinted many times, abroad as well as in the United States, and it still remains a useful, authentic description of the trans-Mississippi region and its commerce as it was before the advent of the railroads.

Death Valley in '49

Describes one of the most dramatic episodes of the California Gold Rush-- an incredible journey of a party of emigrants who got lost in Death Valley. Some perished, but others lived to tell the tale.

The discovery and settlement of Kentucke

Published at Wilmington, Delaware, in 1784, this is the first descriptive account of Kentucky and the first narrative of Daniel Boone.

The Expedition of Lewis and Clark

History of the expedition under the command of Captains Lewis and Clark, to the sources of the Missouri, thence across the Rocky Mountains and down the river Columbia to the Pacific Ocean. Performed during the years 1804-6. By order of the Government of the United States.

An expedition to the valley of the Great Salt Lake

In 1824 James Bridger, fur trader and guide, discovered the Great Salt Lake. In 1849, Captain Howard Stansbury of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, United States Army, was ordered to begin a systematic survey of the region. With a party of eighteen men, he began the work of mapping the area, a task which he did not complete until 1850.

An explanation of the map of Federal lands

Original title page reads: An explanation of the map which delineates that part of the Federal lands, comprehended between Pennsylvania west line, the rivers Ohio and Sioto, and Lake Erie; confirmed to the United States by sundry tribes of Indians, in the treaties of 1784 and 1786, and now ready for settlement. [S]alem [Mass.] Printed by Dabney and Cushing, 1787.

Eye-witnesses to wagon trains West

In the early 1840s whole families followed trails blazed by the official explorers to a hoped-for good life in Oregon and California. It is these people who tell the story through their letters, diaries, books and papers. The author arranges the material written by eyewitnesses and provides a background commentary supported by a complete list of sources, index, 8 maps and 23 photographs.

A journal of a missionary tour

Printed in 1843, it records a journey to the Middle Western frontier in 1842. Scott, pastor of a Seventh-Day Baptist church in Richburg, New York, had been asked by the Executive of the Baptist Home Missionary Society to undertake a trip to distribute tracts, convert unbelievers, and establish churches, where possible, in new settlements.

A journal of the overland route to California

Most of the accounts of the early overland trips across the American continent after the discovery of gold in California describe the middle route, usually with St. Louis or one of the towns in that area as the staging point for the journey westward. Lorenzo D. Aldrich's A Journal of the Overland Route to California, a very rare tract, describes the southern route from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to San Diego, California. It is one of the earliest reports of this route.

Journal of the travels over the Rocky Mountains

In 1842-43, farmers in areas on the border of the unsettled west were seized with "Oregon fever" and began to emigrate to to the fertile regions of the Oregon territory. In June 1846, the lands south of the 49th degree of north latitude now comprising the states of Washington, Oregon, and parts of Idaho and Montana were formally recognized by Great Britain as part of the United States, but three or four years before the treaty American emigrants were convinced that the United States would take over the territory and they were eager to stake their claims early. One of the most articulate emigrants was the author whose account of that journey was published into this book.

Letters from the West; or, A caution to emigrants

Published in 1819, it presents the impressions of the author about opportunities for settlement in the Ohio Valley. Having just completed a six month trip there, where he had gone "as a plain practical farmer, to judge for myself, the merits of a country so highly extolled," Wright came back profoundly disillusioned.

The letters of Daniel Webster, from documents owned principally by the New Hampshire Historical Society

Letters written to and from Daniel Webster, who lived from 1782-1852.

Life on the plains and among the diggings

Two kinds of illness set Alonzo Delano on the path to California in 1849: a bodily sickness that his doctor said would improve in the West...and GOLD FEVER. In one of the most fascinating pioneer accounts of the "mistakes and sufferings of the emigrants" as well as interactions with Native Americans, Delano left a highly detailed, fast-paced account of his trip across the plains and his time in the California gold rush.

Manifest destiny

Contains 41 primary pro or con arguments on America's "manifest destiny" in the 1840s; regarding the acquisition of Texas, California, Oregon, etc.

A narrative of the life of David Crockett of the state of Tennessee

Even as a pup, Davy Crockett "always delighted to be in the very thickest of danger." In his own inimitable style, he describes his earliest days in Tennessee, his two marriages, his career as an Indian fighter, his bear hunts, and his electioneering. His reputation as a bear hunter sent him to Congress, and he was voted in and out as the price of cotton (and his relations with the Jacksonians) rose and fell. In 1834, when this autobiography appeared, Davy Crockett was already a folk hero with an eye on the White House. But a year later he would lose his seat in Congress and turn toward Texas and, ultimately, the Alamo.

A natural and civil history of California

Early explorers, geographers, and map-makers of the New World described California as an island, and in popular imagination for generations it remained a mysterious island... bordered on Paradise... To eliminate some of the mystery concerning this land, and to give a factual account of its location, people, and other characteristics, and the prospects for Christianizing the Indians was the purpose of Father Miguel Venegas, a member of the Society for Jesus, who sometime before the middle of the eighteenth century collected a considerable body of notes on the subject. After his death, Father Andreas Marcus Buriel gathered up his notes, edited the work, and published it in three volumes.

The navigator

The navigator; containing directions for navigating the Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers, first printed in 1801, became an indispensable guide for travelers and settlers moving westward into the interior of the United States.

New homes in the West

An enthusiastic review of travels in the American Midwest written from a feminine viewpoint in 1843. Includes several vintage poetical offerings.

Notes on a journey in America

Morris Birkbeck, and English farmer, emigrated to America in 1817 and settled in Illinois. He was not just another poor emigrant, however. In England he had leased an estate of 1,500 acres and had kept abreast of the latest agricultural techniques... He possessed considerable capital and when he arrived in the United States determined to establish a colony for himself and other emigrants in the Illinois Territory. His Notes on a Journey In America, from the Coast of Virginia to the Territory of Illinois, first printed in 1817, extolled the advantages of settlement in the Illinois prairies.


Many persons who went West paid a high penalty for their ignorance of the country. Such was the experience of John b. Wyeth, who, with a small party of fellow New Englanders, left Boston in March 1832, on a trading and hunting expedition bound for the mouth of the Columbia River. Less than five months later Wyeth and six other members of the group found progress so painful that they preferred to retrace their steps rather than to continue through the 400 miles of difficult terrain which still separated them from the Pacific Ocean. The following year, 1833, Wyeth published an account the the trip.

The Oregon Trail

Keen observations and a graphic style characterize the author's remarkable record of a vanishing frontier. Detailed accounts of the hardships experienced while traveling across mountains and prairies; vibrant portraits of emigrants and Western wildlife; and vivid descriptions of Indian life and culture. A classic of American frontier literature (eBook).

An overland journey

For a decade before the Civil War, Horace Greeley (an American author and statesman who was the founder and editor of the New-York Tribune) considered the proposal to construct a transcontinental railroad as one of the important issues of the day and did what he could to arouse public interest in the project. In the summer of 1859 he set off on a journey from New York City to the Pacific coast to ascertain for himself the nature of the country through which the railroad should pass.

Pictures of gold rush California

Contains a considerable number of selections from various sources, chosen with the view of providing a somewhat general conspectus of the entire Gold Rush episode.

Ranch life and the hunting-trail

Theodore Roosevelt decided to go West to live on a ranch that he had bought the year before in the Dakota Territory, on the Little Missouri River. For three years he lived the life of an ordinary rancher in what was then a wild and relatively undeveloped region. Out of it came on of the most fascinating books on the West of that day, Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail.

Report of the exploring expedition to the Rocky Mountains

Original title page reads: Report of the exploring expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the year 1842, and to Oregon and north California in the years 1843-'44. By Brevet Captain J.C. Frémont, of the topographical engineers, under the orders of Col. J.J. Abert, chief of the Topographical Bureau. Printed by order of the Senate of the United States. Washington, Gales and Seaton, printers, 1845.

Route across the Rocky Mountains

In the 1840's, excitement about a new frontier in the far west was causing much talk. "Oregon fever" was running high and emigrants were discussing the best way of getting to the new promised land on the Pacific coast. By 1854 a great wave of emigration had set in and wagon trains were stretched out along the Oregon Trail all the way from Independence Missouri to the Columbia River. This is the narrative of two men's journey and a description of the country.

Six months in the gold mines

In 1847, the United States Army 7th Regiment of New York Volunteers arrived in San Francisco Bay. The troops were sent around Cape Horn to complete the subjugation of California in the Mexican War. News of the discovery of gold in Sutter's mill had spread like wildfire and the discharged soldiers eagerly turned to gold mining. This book provides one of the earliest and most vivid accounts of the excitement and the hardships.

Sources of the Mississippi and the Western Louisiana Territory

In 1805, United States army officer Pike was ordered to undertake an expedition to find the source of the Mississippi River and to assert American authority over the Native Americans and the English traders in the upper Mississippi Valley. After his return to St. Louis in 1806, Pike received orders to lead another expedition to locate the sources of the Arkansas and Red rivers and to reconnoiter the Spanish border area. This is Pike's account of those expeditions.


In 1773 the naturalist and writer William Bartram set out from Philadelphia on a four-year journey ranging from the Carolinas to Florida and Mississippi. Bartram was among the first to integrate scientific observations and personal commentary. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he condemned the idea that nature was simply a resource to be consumed.

Travels in the interior of America

Original title page reads: Travels in the interior of America, in the years 1809, 1810, and 1811; including a description of Upper Louisiana, together with the States of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee, with the Illinois and western territories... By John Bradbury. Liverpool, Printed for the author by Smith, Galway, and published by Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, London, 1817.

Travels through the northwestern regions of the United States

Schoolcraft accompanied the Cass expedition of 1820 which explored the southern shore of Lake Superior and water communications to the Mississippi River. Information supplied by Schoolcraft's journal hastened the flow of settlers into this region. His journal showed that the United States government could establish order among the Indians and that the land could support a considerable population.

A true picture of emigration

On a frosty day in November 1831, Rebecca Burlend and her husband, John, and their five children debarked at New Orleans after a long voyage from England. They took a steamboat up the Mississippi to St. Louis and from there went to the wilds of western Illinois. It was a whole new world for a family that had never been more than fifty miles from home in rural Yorkshire. Rebecca’s narrative, written with the help of her son, was first published in 1848 as a pamphlet for people of her own class in England who might be considering migration to America. It records the daily struggle and also the satisfactions of homesteading in the Old Northwest.

Under their vine and fig tree; travels through America in 1797-1799, 1805, with some further account of life in New Jersey

Niemcewicz's American diaries are one of the earliest and most important documents in the complex, fascinating and still largely unexplored history of American-Polish cultural relations.

La vida de Junípero Serra

Printed in Mexico in 1787, this is the biography of the founder of the missions in Upper California. Written by a disciple and fellow missionary, it was published three years after Serra died and is the first work dealing with the history of Upper California. This work is in Spanish.

Views of Louisiana

Original title page reads: Views of Louisiana; together with a Journal of a voyage up the Missouri River, in 1811, by H.M. Brackenridge, Esq. Pittsburgh, Printed and published by Cramer, Spear, and Eichbaum...1814.

The vigilantes of Montana

A defense of the actions of the vigilantes who in 1863 wrestled control of Virginia City and Bannack from a gang of notorious "road agents" who terrorized the country, robbed stagecoaches and lone travelers, and committed countless murders. The gang was led by Henry Plummer who got himself elected sheriff of Virginia City District and Bannack. A group of citizens secretly organized a Vigilance Committee that enlisted the most law-abiding men in the area.

Voyages from Montreal on the River St. Laurence

In the latter part of the Eighteenth Century, Alexander Mackenzie, a Scots fur trader in Canada, carried out two extremely significant explorations of the North American continent. He thus became the first white man to cross the continent of North America from coast to coast north of Mexico. This is the account of his explorations.

Went to Kansas

Traces the growing disappointment and the final defeat which one settler family suffered in the mid-19th century West.

Women's diaries of the westward journey

Describes the courage of American women who journeyed West between 1840 and 1870.