David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
Francois X. Aubry: Trader, Trailmaker and Voyageur in the Southwest, 1846-1854. By Donald Chaput. Glendale: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1975. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Maps. 249 pages. $15.50.
Reviewed by Janet Lecompte of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Mrs. Lecompte is author of numerous scholarly articles on the fur trade and the early nineteenth century West. She is presently working on a book-length biography of Governor Manuel Armijo of New Mexico.
In September, 1848, Francois Xavier Aubry, a French-Canadian engaged in the Santa Fe trade, rode horseback from Santa Fe to Independence, Missouri, a distance of 780 miles, in five days and sixteen hours. This was the acme of his career. Six years later he was dead, stabbed in a Santa Fe barroom by a well-known politician. Aubry’s amazing ride and dramatic death attracted a good deal of attention in contemporary newspapers, but today he is known only to researchers of that period and place. It is Donald Chaput’s conviction that Aubry deserves to be better known, and that further details of his life as a trader warrant a 249-page book.
I’m not so sure. The essential information about Aubry has already been collected and published in sketches by Joseph Tassé, Ralph P. Bieber and Walker D. Wyman, and Mr. Chaput does not add much that is important or interesting. Nor has he justified his book by making it a narrative study of a man and his times, as he apparently meant to do when he noted that other writers on Aubry “entirely missed the man” and were “weak when dealing with frontier personalities and geography.” Perhaps it is impossible, with the material extant, to examine Aubry as a human being whose character determines his actions; certainly it is not enough to characterize him by repeating what others said about him, as Mr. Chaput does. Nor does Mr. Chaput create a milieu for his hero. He inserts bits of “geography” but his description of people, places and historical antecedents is superficial and even ignorant. What are we to make of his preparation when he writes of the “Moro” River and the town of “Cibolita”; when he confuses the Jornada del Muerto, the famous bypass of the Rio Grande, with the Cimarron cut-off of the Santa Fe trail; when he calls Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna “Santa Ana”?
Mr. Chaput must be given credit for a serious effort to collect all that is known about Aubry. The publisher must be praised for a truly beautiful book. It is sad that all this labor was expended on a rather dull treatment of a rather dull man.