Yet, I do not entirely deride stock as an idea — as the monetary sum assigned a thought and a potential collaboration at a given point in time. For I am neither an engineer nor a missionary. I looked West to mine neither gold nor souls, but rather to find something so great it did not have a name — something simply Manifest. I went West to discover where the West ended: in short, if you would like to call me an explorer, I sought neither El Dorado nor the Fountain of Youth, but the Other Side of the Frontier.


Naturally, I had to get there fast if I wanted a stake in it. I had to get other people there fast, too — if I wanted them to have a stake in me.


It so happened that I came to write a book.


It wasn’t cheap, I can tell you that much. Writing is boring as hell and expensive. I only recommend it if you can ensure the returns on your labor. I was selling California, so I felt fairly confident about my chances — I cannot speak to your wares, should you have any, but I’m sure that, if you do, Dear Reader, they possess merit of some sort.


[He smiles tightly.]


As I may have mentioned earlier, it’s so easy to get things backwards. The world is crammed with sides and stories and their eternally bickering echoes that wander through canyons and time. It is only human to need a guide — and I found myself, a son of the West and an early, frequent commuter across this vast and varied continent — in a natural position to produce it. The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California was published — and at my own, not insignificant, expense — in 1845.


My own adventures in the West had been greatly facilitated — in fact, permitted — by my lack of family. I did not meet Charlotte until the Gold Rush, just before the Constitutional Convention, when the blame that dogged me blindly and less articulately than the most deranged, rabid mutt that the Devil himself might conjure had finally been put to sleep. By that point, I had survived storms, quakes, deserts, mountains, savages, heathens, Catholics, and the privations and humiliations of every stripe that this vast continent can mete out, only to learn that there is no greater, no stickier, no more frustratingly amorphous foe than the slander of ignorant men!


[He pauses. He perhaps exchanges an embarrassed glance with a fiddler.]


Well, there’s no matter of that now. No, not yet. Indeed, any blame pointed in my direction will be of little more consequence than your average myth, medicine man, or papal bull by the time I am through with my story. Other versions, so to speak, are strictly literary. And, I am, as has been advertised, the most practical sort of guide.