Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Julius C. Birge
312 pp.
Historical Non-fiction

Written in 1912 by Julius Birge, The Awakening of the Desert describes an 1866 wagon train trip taken during "the bloody years on the plains." Recounting the risks of traveling the area surrounding the Oregon Trail, the author faithfully depicts the virgin environment, Native American tribes and abundant wildlife in words that now seem more timely than ever. From Red Cloud going on the warpath, to Mormon services where Brigham Young preached, to the legendary Buffalo Bill, Birge happened upon events, places and people whose significance was revealed with time. Late in his life, understanding the importance of what he had witnessed, he wrote The Awakening of the Desert

An introduction by the author's great-granddaughter sets the stage and makes it easy for the reader to track the arduous journey and understand its purpose. It also provides details of Birge's life before and after the trip, bringing additional interest to his memoir, which has been regarded as an important cultural work for more than a century.

Lovers of nature, students of history and those traveling through the American West today will appreciate this vivid, lyrical and often humorous recollection.


I was given a copy of this book by the author's great grand daughter, Barbara Birge, who thankfully saw the value in resurrecting this brilliant historical account of the post-Civil War American wilderness. Though originally published in 1912, this story is as relevant and enjoyable today as it was a century ago, possibly more so.

Writing 50 years after he traveled by wagon train across the undeveloped prairies of the western territories, Birge provides first hand insight into the natural habitat of early American wildlife and the native American peoples. He discusses the contribution of the Mormon Pioneers to the development of the west, of the tragic destruction of the Buffalo, and the mistreatment of the Indians by the American government. He witnessed the laying of the first transcontinental railroad, and describes in sometimes humorous ways his experiences traveling on foot, by horse, wagon and stagecoach.

I loved every page, every word of this magnificent tale! It should be added to school curricula throughout the country. He laments at the end of the book, again written in 1912, that most of what he wrote about, what he'd witnessed in 1866, has now vanished, replaced by developing downs and transportation lines. Reading this today I can't help but feel a sense of loss knowing that even his world a century ago has vanished, too.

I cannot recommend Awakening of the Desert enough. Read it. It is wonderful. It has earned a permanent spot on my bookshelf.


Profanity:  None
Violence:  Moderate
Sexuality:  None

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a wonderful book. Thanks for sharing your review. I'll add it to my pile to read after my move.