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Reviewed by Raanan Geberer for Readers' Favorite
Destination Astoria by Brian D. Ratty tells the story of Dutch Blackwell, trapper, trader and hunter, who’s about as rough as they come. Dutch signs on as part of an expedition sent by John Jacob Astor, the richest man in America, in 1810 to establish a trading post in Oregon. When Dutch, due to the chicanery of a rival fur company, misses his connection in St. Louis, he thinks he’ll have to go westward on the trail alone. But he soon teams up with a friendly mountain man who knows the frontier like the back of his hand. They then join up with Dutch’s long-lost uncle, and later meet a Bible-thumping Cherokee preacher and the preacher’s African-American female slave. All the while, Dutch keeps thinking about a girl he met back East. Dutch Blackwell is part white, part Indian, and 100 percent American.
In Destination Astoria, Brian D. Ratty brings alive the little-known, troubled period after the American Revolution, but just before the War of 1812. His descriptions, whether of a waterfront dive in Boston, a U.S. Army stockade in the Louisiana Territory, or a flatboat on the Ohio River all ring true. Ratty shows us the unusual mix of people one found west of the Appalachians in those days, from an Amish family to treacherous “river pirates” to frontiersmen. He demonstrates how each Indian tribe had its own unique culture. He also shows us both the good in people – how Jack, the mountain man, is willing to help Dutch – and the bad – Jack’s disparagement of Indians and African-Americans. All in all, Brian D. Ratty is a master storyteller, and he makes the West of that long-ago era come alive.