January 15, 2013

2013: the Digital Age for New Concord Press


After a tough year of bad weather and political storms, December found us planning for the next round. It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that the publishing industry has changed to such degree that old models are begining to fail (or have already!). So I’m delighted (and a bit terrified) to announce that New Concord Press will be releasing e-book versions for most of our catalog over the coming months.

Why terrified, you ask? 

Because formatting and publishing a digital edition of a book is a lot of work. Electronic publishing sounds so easy based on what you might read on the Internet, but it’s only easy if you take the time to learn the ropes and use the right tools. Patience is indeed a virtue when it comes to producing a digital book that readers will enjoy. Fiction is the easiest; non-fiction with tables, images, and footnotes is quite another thing. However, for our authors to remain visible in the vast pool of good works that are out there, we must do this.

So, after the first blush of excitement over our decision, I began working on one of our best-sellers, a fascinating book about the families and explorers who trekked west across this vast land, not knowing for sure what they would find or if they’d even make it.

Saleratus & Sagebrush: People and Places on the Road West is written by Dr. Robert L. Munkres, a well-known authority on the settlement of the West and the California-Oregon Trail. This 340-page (print) book details the travails of our pioneers, much of it through the eyes of diarists. I was especially intrigued by the women’s observations of a trip that, to my way of thinking, had to be almost unendurable. But endure, they did, and the book serves as a window to the past, a glimpse at many of our own ancestors. Many of the surnames are very familiar to me, having grown up in Oregon where many of these people settled. 

Here are some wonderful excerpts from this, our first New Concord Press e-book.

From the diary of Myra Eells, 1838: “The wagons are all covered with black or dark oil cloth. they move first, one directly after the other, then the packed animals and cattle. Sometimes we ladies ride behind the whole, sometimes between the hindermost wagon and the mules, as circumstances may be. It is not safe for any to be far in the rear, because they are always exposed to be robbed of their horses and, if not, killed by wild Indians, Themselves left to wander on foot...”

Author: For some, the physical burdens of travel weighed even more heavily because of the added complication of poor health and sickness. While traveling along the Platte in 1838, Mrs. Mary Richardson Walker wrote: “My health at present is rather feeble, and I find it difficult to keep up a usual degree of cheerfulness. If I were to yield to inclination, I should cry half my time without knowing what for.”The next day, sick with diarrhea, she “cried to think how comfortable father's hogs were.”

Author: All of the illnesses experienced were, in varying degrees, inconvenient, debilitating, and potentially dangerous. But one was placed apart in the minds of the emigrants-cholera, one of the greatest (perhaps the greatest) killers of the trail.

[But sturdy and determined as they were, these pioneer women found the bright side on many occasions.]

From the diary of Sarah Sutton, 1854: “The girls are washing and baking apple and peach pie, stewing beans and rabbit and appear very happy; all are in good health and no trouble. We have only eight girls to do all the work. This trip is fun to them.”

Mrs. E. A. Hadley wrote (1851): “We are a merry crowd, while I am journaling one of the company is playing the violin which sounds delightful way out here. My accordian is also good, as I carry it in the carriage and play as we travel.”

Author: It is very apparent that, in the broad sense, the pattern of life on the trail was much the same as in the “States.” Hardships and pleasure, grief and joy-all had their place in the cycle of existence; the causes and manner of occurrence perhaps differed, but here as elsewhere the threads of birth, life, and death were woven into that seamless web which men variously call existence and eternity.

This is but a glimpse of the fascinating and heart-breaking tales of the men and women who settled the West. A wonderful resource for genealogists, history buffs, or readers who simply want a good, solid story.