The Fields of Eden

Written by Richard S. Wheeler
Review by Steve Lewis

Oregon Territory, 1842-1849. This ambitious novel chronicles the settling of a land in the wilderness by a never-ending flood of American immigrants. Oregon was no paradise. It took hard work to settle it. It shaped its new arrivals as much as they shaped their new land.

Before them came the British-based Hudson Bay Company, whose chief factor, Dr. John McLoughlin, had no choice but to welcome them, give them credit toward the food and clothes they needed, knowing full well that history is on their side, not his, and not the company’s. The newcomers were visionaries, spies, mountaineers, missionaries, would-be politicians, vagrants, and families with dreams. (Wives, as a rule, however, were far less willing than their husbands.) Wheeler weaves their various tales together in a wide-ranging panorama of human strengths, weaknesses and imperfections.

As usual in Wheeler’s books of the American West, not all the stories end happily, nor in many cases can they be said to end at all. Giving the book some focus, a more than nominal amount of sympathy is given John McLoughlin, a real person, as a man handed the unenviable task of doing his Christian duty, and ending up being hated for it.