Men to Match My Mountains: The Opening of the Far West 1840-1900

By Irving Stone

1,092 ratings - 4.1* vote

Stone has created a pageant of stories of the great westward drive.

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Book details

Hardcover, 459 pages
August 14th 2009 by Castle Books

(first published 1956)

Original Title
Men to Match My Mountains: The Opening of the Far West, 1840-1900
ISBN
0785813470 (ISBN13: 9780785813477)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

The Colonial

Famed novelist and historian Irving Stone tackles the final years of Westward Expansion with the settling of the “Far West”—or more specifically the states of California, Nevada, Colorado, and Utah. He brings the reader on a journey of epic proportions in the manner of a travelogue, chronicling the different pioneers, settlers, homesteaders, Native tribes, gold miners, cowboys, explorers, and barons met along the way, where he begins his saga in the year 1840.

Stone uses the prose and style that worked so well in his previous novels, and combines them with factual resources and research in a way that captures the reader’s attention and keeps them interested in each territory or party that subsequently will be discussed. The book is full of both tragic and bewildering experiences, from John C. Frémont and Kit Carson’s epic trailblazing that ranged from St. Louis to the Sierras and Pacific Coast, to the Mountain Meadows Massacre that would prove unsettling for the Mormon religion as a whole and still be regarded as controversial to this day. There are incredible concise biographies littered throughout Stone’s text that provide the reader with enough heavy detail and scope in order to segue on to the next book or history that fancies their curiosity—such as some fascinating tidbits on the Mormon leader Brigham Young:

Following Joseph Smith’s original design Young, the city planner, decreed that the streets were to be laid out enormously wide, each house set back so many feet, the fronts to be beautified with fruit trees and gardens; and four public squares of ten acres laid out in various parts of the city for public grounds. Young, the engineer, ordered that water be routed through the streets to carry off all filth; then Young, man of action, set his Saints to building a bower for Sunday services, a road to the canyon to bring out timber, a timber and adobe fort to protect them against Indian raids…

Chapters that the reader may find particularly interesting are those relating to the Mormons, as well as the history of the Gold Rush that took over not just California but Colorado as well. It’s surprising to find that the book is still relevant and even modern in its language since its publication from over fifty years ago, and the only caveat here would be Stone’s repetitive reminder to the audience that “the men had matched the mountains” through the various chapters—though this is almost dutifully acknowledged and accepted by the remarkable feats being processed by the reader. For those looking to uncover details on the settling of the western states and those pioneers who helped pave the way—or for a taste of America’s Westward Expansion history—this is an exceptional read to delve into. Illustrations are unfortunately not provided for, however, maps of each territory can be found in the opening pages.

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Carol

This was quite a reading project. I'm sure I didn't retain 10% of the factual history of this book but I did find it fascinating. Living in the west myself, I was surprised at how little I knew about household names (they have streets, buildings and towns named after them) such as Crocker, Stanford and Huntington. Interesting to see what kind of men they were. I particularly enjoyed reading about the transcontinental railroad and the Chinese who were brought over by boat to build it. The Bank of California was a real piece of work. Corruption in the stock market isn't a new thing. There were so many men and women to admire as well. They literally cleared the way to the west. It was a good reminder of what my pioneer forebearers have done to make my life so luxurious. While I was reading the book, I received a copy of a letter written by my 2 great grandmother written from Sacramento in 1851. Sure collaborated what Irving Stone had written, Sacramento at that time was full of thieves and no place for a lady to be alone (she was young and recently widowed). She quickly remarried a German carpenter, also a widower. I have been to Coloma and Sutter's Fort and the usual tourist spots associated with my area, but would love to see them again and more since reading this book. A very slow, arduous read but very worth the effort. I will probably read it again in the future.

Donna

This is turning out to be a slow read. The book is interesting but I am also struck by how ethnocentric the book is, telling the story of history from a white North American perspective. Native Americans, Californios and Mexicans are only shadow characters in this history. That said, I sometimes found myself fascinated by the events as they unfolded. I learned a lot about the settlement of California, about rail monopolies, mining rushes and the role of real estate speculation in Los Angeles. It also was very interesting reading about the Mormon settlement of Utah and other portions of the West and their battles to defend polygamy against outsiders and the US Government.

This is an excellent book if you want an overview of the settlement period in California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado.

Jessica

I have read two Stone novels in the past and have enjoyed them both thoroughly. I expected to enjoy Men to Match My Mountains just as much, and I did, however, it took a while to get into it. As a historian, I found that Stone's manner of writing history was rather jarring at first. I had to get used to his extreme attention to detail and narrative form. It is clear that Stone could have used a good editor for this collection; then again, an editor may have taken away its unique charm.

Within this book, Stone subscribes to the romanticized version of the West; a land where freedom and hard work built a strong, American character. He describes the Far West as the "hero" of his story. That being said I (one of my fields of expertise is American West history) learned a great deal from this book. The breadth of information provided in the book is astounding. As mentioned before attention to detail is impressive and at times mind-numbing. So many individuals and story lines are interwoven that it is hard to keep track of who is who, what is what, and where is where. Yet the stories provided seem to have something to offer everyone. I found that some chapters kept me riveted, while others I read without truly taking them in or becoming interested in the action. I found the chapters on the Mormons particularly interesting.

Overall, I highly recommend this book even though it has its flaws. It is a truly charming piece of history, and the energy and enthusiasm Stone must have had for the project are evident throughout.

Robin

This is a good book to learn about the settling of the West. I believe it gives a balanced perspective. While its hard for me to remember all the facts put forth in the book (its been awhile) I think it would be a must read for anyone who wants to learn about the American West.

John Johnson

My parents introduced this book to me when I was in high school. Since then it continues to be one my favorite books. I admire the bravery, resolve and courage of the early explorers and settlers of the far west. The book shares their stories in a well written tome that's become a classic.

Marty Reeder

I don't remember who recommended this book to me. I know that it was years ago and they vividly described how the book contrasts the experiences of the various settlers of the Far West--pioneers, miners, homesteaders, enterprisers. I was fascinated. Since then, that contrast stayed with me. So much so that I based a story I wrote just off of the memory I had of its description. Then, when ordering a bunch of books, I remembered Men to Match My Mountains and eagerly added it to the list. Finally, book in hand, I read the story that I had placed on the top of a mountain of expectations for years. I wanted to see if it had earned its elevated station. The result? The Book Matched the Mountain of Expectation ... though it had its valleys as well.

Ivring Stone, a historical/biographical fiction author by trade, must have found stories in the Far West that exceeded his ability to improve upon them through fiction. He was right. The stories of the settling of the Far West are fascinating, complicated, harsh, and beautiful in ways that many fiction authors could only dream of. In fact, they go beyond that. I, who do not delight in assigned readings, feel that Men to Match My Mountains should be required reading for any person living in the Far West area. A proper respect for the wildness of the country we live in, the hardships of the pioneers who tamed it, and the fragility between civilization or savagery, survival and mortality, is something that I think we all lose sight of in our comfortable existences. While reading the incredible accounts of the first pioneers, I could not help but look at the geography surrounding my home and realize that, without years and years of work from farmers, surveyors, engineers, and irrigators, I would be fairly well trapped and without resources. I enjoyed the mountains before for the vista, but I did not wholly respect them for their awesome dominance. Stone helped me to return to the native view of the land that hid beneath the gravel and pavement. He helped me to realize that the pioneers did so much more than walk a long way--they truly caused the desert to bloom.

While enthralled with the settling and original acts of taming the Far West, I was less interested in the thick portion in the middle of the book that covered all of the gold and silver discoveries, their subsequent mines, and the booms and busts that resulted. Here and there an interesting tale could be told and dynamic characters passed in and out of the narrative, but learning about those things, for me, was ultimately as shallow as the mines turned out to be themselves after a few years ... and without the luster that comes with a successful strike.

As a native Utahan, I was very intrigued by Irving Stone's approach to the Mormon exodus and settlement of the eastern Great Basin. I also appreciate the fairness that he gives in judging the Mormons, choosing to come to conclusions by fruits of their labor rather than the rumors of their rituals. The Mormons were appropriately vaunted for their teamwork and industry. At the same time, the detailing of the Mountain Meadows Massacre horrified me, as it should any humanity-loving person--even within context, it is a truly despicable act. I only wish that Irving Stone would have included a chapter on the noble tragedy of the handcart pioneers. I believe (perhaps in a biased way, as my ancestors were a part of it), Stone would have concluded that, in the actions of those pioneers and their rescuers, the Men Matched the Mountains.

Perhaps the most refreshing part of Stone's story is that it is written well before far-too-sensitive political-minded historians would rip the glory from these enterprising individuals. Stone shows us these people in the context of their time, he judges them by that same measure, and he refuses to allow modern sensitivities denigrate truly courageous and noble acts. Equally, he also properly derides what then and now should be considered horrendous and repulsive. Yes, he could have spent more time on the native Mexicans and Indians in the region and attempted to show their point of view. I would have been interested in that. However, he is not altogether ignorant of these perspectives either. They simply do not fit within the scope of his narrative, which covers the transition of the Far West from remote outposts of scattered groups to civilization due to westward migrating Americans.

In the end, the scope of Stone's work is impressive, and his management is trustworthy and also worthy of a great storyteller. Stone gets it, and he helps us to get it too. And although the path is rugged in parts along the way, I still feel that the journey is worthwhile. If you are a westerner, in fact, it's indispensable. Heck, I suppose it wouldn't hurt for those soft Easterners to be allowed a glimpse also!

Gerilyn

I LOVE this book! You know I'm always wild about good history books, but this is a particular gem. The history of the west is filled with larger-than-life characters of the sort we'll never see again (that's not all bad, by the way--a little bit of John C. Fremont, William Sharon and even Brigham Young goes a long way). Irving Stone is a novelist but this book is pure history, one of two that he wrote. Even so, he brings a novelist telling to the tale. I really enjoyed the outsider's view of Mormon history and found his take vivid, accurate and compelling. I couldn't sleep for days after reading the Donner party account. Highly recommmended(that means I've read it at least five times).

Rachel Jones

Fascinating! I'm a Southern California native, with California native parents, I'm a Mormon with family and cultural ties to Utah, and I have been living in Denver for the past 7 years, so this history was especially interesting to me as I've been to or heard of most of the places Irving Stone writes about. I would recommend this for anyone who loves American history though, as the settling of the West was a unique experience.

David Monson

A very unassuming book until you get a little ways in and then BOOM! Some of the craziest events in history I've ever read! Settling the west, Mining for gold, fortunes made and lost, the scandals of the railroads, duels, pioneers, cannibalism, cities burned to the ground, crazy economic situations etc. This book truly gives meaning to the term "wild Wild West." Folks back then were tough as hell. I gained a lot of respect for them because of this book. It will seriously blow your mind!

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