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Original Essays | June 20, 2014

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It's a wild and thundery night. Inside a ramshackle old manor house, a beautiful young girl lies asleep in bed. At the window, a figure watches... Continue »
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Ghosts of the Pioneers: A Family Search for the Independent Oregon Colony of 1844


Ghosts of the Pioneers: A Family Search for the Independent Oregon Colony of 1844 Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In the early 1840s, Americans east of the Mississippi were beginning to feel crowded. The forests had all been cleared, and farms and small towns covered the countryside such that most usable land between the Atlantic and the Mississippi River was relegated into what might be described as the 19th centurys version of suburban sprawl.

It was during this time, the pre-Gold Rush era, that an ambitious group of some 300 pioneers set off from St. Joseph, Missouri, headed for Oregons lush Willamette Valley. This colony of emigrants included several contrasting figures that embody certain American archetypes: a tight group of well-liked and conscientious leaders, and an irascible and reckless set of dreamers and rogues whose carelessness would lead to one of the most notorious tragedies of the western migration. These men and their families were part of the same wagon train, the Independent Oregon Colony, which departed Missouri in 1844 in search for adventure, equality, and opportunity in a new land.

Neal Gilliam, a former slave chaser who started as leader of the expedition, was soon deposed because of his rash temper and incompetent leadership. He met an untimely death in the Territory shortly after his arrival. Emigrant Henry Sager, a charming yet hasty man, was victim to his own folly of heading west into the harsh territories when he wasn't prepared, lacking the basic conservative instincts to keep himself and his family safe. He was defeated by his fatal flaw—an insatiable thirst for adventure—before he even reached the far side of the Rockies. His wife Naomi died soon after, leaving the seven children in care of the surviving families.

Capt. William “Uncle Billy” Shaw and Capt. Robert Wilson Morrison—and their faithful young sidekick John Minto—became the subsequent leaders of the company. They  proved to be supportive and caring to each of the families, ushering them safely west despite extreme personal hardship and sacrifice. Once arriving safely in Oregon, they delivered the Sager children to a mission for adoption by a white family, in accordance with Henry Sagers dying wishes. Shaw and Morrison went on to lead successful lives in the Territory, establishing lucrative farms and, in the process, forging the state of Oregon out of the egalitarian principles of their visionary leadership.

In the summer of 2006, between terms of law school, author Twain Braden, his wife Leah Day, and their four children retraced the route of these pioneers, following the Oregon trail in search of emigrant ghosts—along the original ruts formed by their wagons more than 150 years before.

Juxtaposing the story of the Independent Oregon Colonys arduous journey west with his own modern-day trip, Braden presents a moving and illuminating account of how America became what it is today.

Book News Annotation:

Braden, a Western Writer of America who lives in South Carolina, combines history with personal travelogue to tell the story of a wagon train full of families that set off to settle the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Personalities, relationships, natural and social events, deaths, landscapes, and dreams and disappointments are part of the tale. There is no index. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (


The author and his family trace the path of an 1840s wagon train, recounting it's unusual participants.

About the Author

Twain Braden has worked as a writer and editor for the past decade. With coauthor Skip Strong, Twain wrote the 2003 nonfiction book In Peril: A Daring Decision, A Captains Resolve, and the Salvage that Made History. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

Product Details

A Family Search for the Independent Oregon Colony of 1844
Lyons Press
Braden, Twain
United States - General
United States - 19th Century/Old West
United States - West - General
Essays & Travelogues
Frontier and pioneer life
General History
Frontier and pioneer life -- West (U.S.)
West (U.S.) Description and travel.
Travel Writing-General
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
8-page bandw photo insert
9 x 6 in

Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Pacific Northwest » History
History and Social Science » Pacific Northwest » Oregon » Willamette Valley

Ghosts of the Pioneers: A Family Search for the Independent Oregon Colony of 1844
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Product details 304 pages Lyons Press - English 9781599210414 Reviews:
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The author and his family trace the path of an 1840s wagon train, recounting it's unusual participants.
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