David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
The Nicaragua Route. By David I. Folkman, Jr. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1972. Appendices. Illustrations. Index. Map. Notes. 173 pages. $7.50.
Among the many side effects of the discovery of gold in California was the promotion of Central America as an important transit route linking the east and west coasts of North America. The most prominent routes were those across Panama and Nicaragua. John H. Kemble has analyzed The Panama Route, 1828-1869 (1943), and Oscar Lewis has described the routes generally in his Sea Routes to the Gold Fields . . . 1848-1852 (1949). Now, David I. Folkman has provided us with a careful and interesting study of the route across Nicaragua.
Although it is not as well known as the Panama crossing, the Nicaragua route, Folkman argues, was healthier and more enjoyable. By 1855 it offered serious competition to the Panama route. That same year, however, a civil war in Nicaragua and the arrival of the American filibuster, William Walker, led to the closing of the transit and cast a permanent cloud over the activities of future United States entrepreneurs in Nicaragua who would attempt to restore the once-popular route.
Folkman tells his story well, with attention to human details of what crossing the Isthmus was like in the 1850s. He also examines the international controversies surrounding the route and the machinations of international businessmen, most notable being Cornelius Vanderbilt whose money and drive opened the route. Some California historians will find Folkman’s list of “Passenger Steamers Sailing between San Francisco and Nicaragua” (1851-1868) especially useful..