America Nomads: Travels with Lost Conquistadors, Mountain Men, Cowboys, Indians, Hoboes, Truckers, and Bullriders

By Richard Grant

nomadsSpanning centuries of history, and chronicling the ways of historical and current American wanderers, American Nomads is a fascinating, even thrilling read.

For history buffs there are tales of exploration and discovery. Travel with Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish conquistador turned Indian trader turned advocate for the rights of indigenous people. By the time his solo journeys in the American South ended, he had been enslaved twice, traveled thousands of miles on foot, and was the first westerner to see much of the current United States.

Mountain men are prominent in the book. Fascinating to me was the story of Joe Walker’s expedition of 1833. This unusually hardy group had the nerve to cross the Sierras in winter and was the first white expedition that saw Yosemite Valley. After arriving in the Mexican territory’s capital, Monterrey, the group was welcome and Walker was offered a vast tract of land to settle. He turned down certain wealth and wandered for decades more, never settling down.

Grant’s nicely researched chapter on Native American groups like Apaches, Comanches and Sioux paints a more complete picture of these often-stereotyped groups. Within 100 years of the introduction of the horse to North America, these natives completely adopted a nomadic way of life, often traveling great distances in search of Buffalo, or sedentary groups to raid. So proud were these warriors that they disdained walking and would ride very short distances across camp.

The author goes on to chronicle modern groups like the Rainbow family, Freight Train Riders of America, and desert snowbird retirees who live in RVs full time and build tight-knit communities that constantly disband and regroup.

The author himself is a wanderer, and only reluctantly plants himself in one place for very long. Having grown up in several nations, he’s British by nationality and settled in the United States because of the opportunities for wide-open travel here.