Douglas H. Strong, Book Review Editor
The Bradshaw Trail, by Francis J. Johnston. Riverside: Historical Commission Press, 1977. Bibliography. Index. Map. 215 pages. $6.00.
Reviewed by John L. Polich, Associate Professor of History at the Imperial Valley Campus of San Diego State University.
The Bradshaw Trail is one example of an increasing number of books on specialized regional topics written by local authors. Such books often bring a great deal of personal experiences as well as research to bear on a topic. Francis Johnston’s The Bradwhaw Trail is such a book. It shows the author’s grasp of the history of the area of the Trail. The Bradshaw Trail, used by many travelers from the San Bernardino area in the 1860’s and 1870’s to reach central Arizona, ran via a route that today passes through San Gorgonio Pass, Palm Springs, the north shore of the Salton Sea and then east, dipping south briefly into Imperial County before reaching the Colorado River near Blythe. After crossing into Arizona at Ehrenberg, it continued north along the river a few miles before turning east toward Wickenburg. This route, as the author demonstrates, was pioneered by a number of individuals and followed traditional Indian trails. In fact, in traversing the one part of the route which he is usually credited with trailblazing, Bradshaw was following the careful directions of Indian friends. In this regard, however, the Bradshaw Trail was similar to most Southwestern trails which, no matter to whom they are ascribed, were originally pioneered by Indians.
The book actually has only one chapter devoted to the Trail itself. The bulk of the work is devoted to two related topics. Nearly half of the book consists of a biography of Bradshaw. Another large segment deals with a year-by-year chronicle of the use of the route by stage lines. This does lead to some repetition and a lack of cohesiveness to the work as a whole. There are occasional points on which the author might have, for clarity’s sake, elaborated slightly. For example, he mentions that before 1815 the Spanish made little or no effort to develop salt deposits in California, including those in the Salton Sink, even though these were known to the mission Indians and, presumably, to the Spanish. The author might have mentioned that salt was a crown (government) monopoly and local developments were not encouraged. These small criticisms do not detract measurably from the usefulness of the book. Furthermore, the author provides appendices, bibliography, and, most important if one is to use the volume as a resource, a good index.