Rev. Samuel Parker’s Journal of an Exploring Tour takes the reader on a journey through the Oregon Territory (what is now Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah) and finally to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). In short, Parker goes wherever there are heathen souls to be saved. Parker’s attitude towards the natives was considerably kinder than that of many of his white contemporaries:
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.
Parker felt that most of the tribes he encountered were receptive to his religious ideas, but he was suspicious of native traditions:
In the buffalo dance, a large number of young men, dressed with the skins of the neck and head of buffalos with their horns on, moved round in a dancing march. They shook their heads, imitated the low bellowing of the buffalo, wheeled and jumped. At the same time men and women sung a song, accompanied with the beating of a sort of drum. I cannot say I was much amused to see how well they could imitate brute beasts, while ignorant of God and salvation.
The main aim of the book is to relate facts about the area he explores, and it is chock-full of geology, geography, ethnology, religion, meteorology, and the history of the West and its economic development. While he is often preoccupied with preaching, Rev. Parker is always noticing the natural beauty of his surroundings as well as the possibilities they might afford for future development:
The entire absence of forests in the large space of country around, is a deficiency which cannot easily be remedied; but probably forest trees might be cultivated to advantage. Is it not highly probable that mineral coal will be found here as well as upon the prairies in the western states?
The animals of the prairie and mountains also come alive in the pages of Parker’s narrative – buffaloes, antelope, rattlesnakes, badgers, horseflies and birds abound. While the language and attitude are sometimes stiff, Journal of an Exploring Tour is full of really useful and interesting knowledge. Parker even records in detail the “amusing provincialisms” of the area, and in the Appendices gives a vocabulary list of various Indian languages including Chenook, Nez Perce, Klicatat and more. This book is truly a wealth of information, interspersed with real adventure.