This book, originally published in 1950, is just one of a number of historical novels by Bristow that were bestsellers in their day, some even being made into movies. Bristow is relatively unknown today, but I hope that the republication of this volume will remedy that.
Jubilee Trail is the story of Garnet Cameron, a young woman from New York City who has just graduated from Miss Wayne’s Select Academy for Young Ladies. It is 1844. Garnet has learned her lessons in correct behavior well at the academy, though she often finds herself yearning to break free of some of the constraints that have been drilled into her. When she meets Oliver Hale, a western trader who is doing business with her banker father, she finds someone whose life piques her imagination. He also has no interest in society’s rules of correct behavior. Garnet and Oliver marry and set off for the Jubilee Trail, the grueling overland route from Independence, Missouri, to California. Some of the people Garnet meets along the way become strong characters in their own right. They are a disparate bunch, and it is only when readers are far into the book that they learn some of their stories. For the rule is that one does not inquire into the backgrounds of those who have moved west.
The conditions on the trail are vividly described: the dangers of the trail and measures taken to protect the travelers, food preparation, the emptiness of the land. The author also makes early California come alive: the ties with Mexico, the squalid conditions in the tiny settlement of Los Angeles, the rancho system.
Both Nancy E. Turner and Sandra Dallas have written forewords for this new edition. As Dallas writes, this “is a novel of the era in which it was published,” which can be seen in some euphemisms and the descriptions of the Digger Indians. However, it is a ripping good tale that deserves resurrection.