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Auction 12: The Zamorano 80 Collection of Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lot 41

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Item 41. The superb James Semple–Jennie Crocker Henderson–Warren R. Howell copy of Hastings’exceedingly rare Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California, in original printed wrappers—“the first California guide book” (Howes) and “the most controversial and fought-over guidebook associated with California and the American West” (Kurutz).

41. HASTINGS, Lansford W[arren] (1819-1870). The Emigrants’ Guide, to Oregon and California, Containing Scenes and Incidents of a Party of Oregon Emigrants; a Description of Oregon; Scenes and Incidents of a Party of California Emigrants; and a Description of California; with a Description of the Different Routes to Those Countries; and All Necessary Information Relative to the Equipment, Supplies, and the Method of Traveling. By [the] Leader of the Oregon and California Emigrants of 1842. Cincinnati: Published by George Conclin, Stereotyped by Shepard & Co., 1845. 152 pp. 8vo, original brown printed wrappers, title within typographical ornamental border (original upper wrapper obtained by Warren R. Howell from the Mizner family, descendants of General James Semple, brother of Robert Semple, who traveled to California with the Hastings party [see Hart, Companion to California, p. 397]; ownership inscription of James Semple in pencil on upper wrapper, and printed date of 1845 on wrapper erased; note of authentication regarding the wrappers signed by Warren R. Howell). Slight wear to wrappers and an occasional trace of foxing, else very fine, and so described by John Howell–Books in their California Catalogue (50:112). Contemporary signature of George Ayres (or possibly Myres) on title, dated “Aug. 19, ’45.” Preserved in a full crimson morocco fleece-lined folding box. Another book from the Daniel G. Volkmann collection with splendid provenance: the James Semple–Jennie Crocker Henderson–Warren R. Howell copy. This book is a true rarity of Western Americana and Californiana, difficult to find in any condition (the 1953 Godchaux census located only 10 copies).
First edition of “the first California guide book” (Howes). American Imprints 45:3040. Bradford 2153. Cowan I, p. 105: “One of the earliest works on the overland route.” Cowan II, p. 270. Doheny Sale 230. Graff 1815: “The earliest important guide.” Hill, p. 442n. Holliday 492. Howell 50, California 112 (illustrated, p. 61): “Rare and celebrated.” Howes H288 (“superlatively rare”). Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 41. Jones 1105 & vol. 2, p. 233 (title illustrated). Libros Californianos (Wagner list), p. 25. Mintz, The Trail 215. Plains & Rockies IV:116:1. Smith 4148. Streeter Sale 3142: “One of the first and most famous of the ‘overlands’ to the Pacific.—TWS.” Tweney, The Washington 89 #27 (illustrated at p. 25): “One of the most famous—and at the same time, controversial—overland guides to the Pacific Coast.” Zamorano 80 #41. For post–Gold Rush editions of Hastings’s Emigrants’ Guide, see Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 320. ($50,000-100,000)


The Emigrants’ Guide, because of the disaster suffered by the Donner-Reed party in 1846, is the most controversial and fought-over guidebook associated with California and the American West. Historians of the Donner tragedy have routinely condemned Hastings for suggesting the harsh desert route that delayed the ill-fated emigrants. California history’s giant, Hubert Howe Bancroft, pronounced the guidebook as “worthless” and the great Bernard DeVoto opined that Hastings was a “smart young man who wrote a book without knowing what he was talking about.” Other publications, including the latest edition of The Plains & the Rockies, have softened the criticism of this agent of Manifest Destiny concluding that “Historical hindsight has dealt harshly with Hastings, particularly for having promoted an unknown cutoff south of Salt Lake.” Western guidebook historian Thomas F. Andrews reevaluated Hastings and recognized the worth of his book in providing practical advice on outfitting a trip to California. More recently, overland historian Will Bagley, after a thorough analysis of the author and his motives, concluded that the record will “reveal a man whose ruthless ambition blinded him to reality. Lansford W. Hastings was a scoundrel.” Bagley went on to write, “The Emigrants’ Guide contained useful information about preparing for an overland crossing, but as a trail guide, it was a disaster. The book was flawed by misinformation.”
What cannot be denied, however, is that The Emigrants’ Guide exercised a powerful influence on Hastings’s intended audience, the potential settler from the United States. After a trip to California and Oregon in 1843, the eager and opportunistic Hastings headed east, published his guidebook in Cincinnati, and went on the lecture circuit to tout this western Canaan. Hastings, a man, as Bagley put it, of “obvious charisma and personal likeability,” had big plans for California, believing that it should follow in the footsteps of Texas and break away from Mexico, with himself, of course, playing a lead role. By flooding the region with Americans, he would establish a new republic or, at the very least, secure the Pacific territory for the United States. The buckskin-clad promoter painted a rosy picture of the potential of California while at the same time denigrating, in typical Yankee terms, its Spanish and Indian population. It was also his hope to deflect settlers from Oregon to California by describing a new route, the untested Hastings Cutoff. As it turned out, this would-be Sam Houston had no personal knowledge of his namesake shortcut, relying instead on secondhand information. This trail across Utah and Nevada’s forbidding desert turned out to be the route followed by the Donners.
Following the discovery of gold, frantic Argonauts eagerly devoured copies of The Emigrants’ Guide even though it did not include that essential item, a map. Using stereotyped plates, publisher George Conclin reprinted the guide five times in the late 1840s under the new title A New History of Oregon and California. Again, while providing realistic information on what kind of equipment, food, and animals to take along, as a speedy trail guide to the gold fields the repackaged and mapless guide proved to be wanting. Further, it suffered from not being updated in the rush to sell copies. The 1849 edition did, however, include R. B. Mason’s report on the gold fields and a description of a new route that went through Mexico. Despite its lack of current information, even Joseph E. Ware, the author of the most popular and complete Gold Rush guidebook, drew heavily from its contents. By 1857, the book inextricably linked with the horrors of the Donner Party, had been printed nine times.
Robert H. Becker, in the fourth edition of Wagner-Camp’s The Plains and the Rockies, provides an excellent description of the various editions of Hastings. Princeton University Press reprinted the 1845 first edition in 1932, Da Capo Press of New York in 1969, and The Narrative Press of Santa Barbara in 2001.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Thomas F. Andrews, “The Controversial Hastings Overland Guide: A Reassessment,” Pacific Historical Review 37:1 (February 1968), pp. 21-34; Will Bagley, “Lansford Warren Hastings: Scoundrel or Visionary?” Overland Journal 12:1 (1994), pp. 12-26.

Item 41. Selected text from “one of the first and most famous of the ‘overlands’ to the Pacific” (Streeter).

Item 41. Warren R. Howell’s note of authentication regarding the original printed wrappers for Hastings’ 1845 Guide.

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