Beginning in the spring of 1969, Huckleberry Finn inspired a question: Could you build a raft, float down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, and on the way learn something about America and its peoples? Will Bagley, a vagrant longhair and future prize-winning western historian, and his friends could, and did. Now, a half century after the adventure, Bagley tells his story.
“Below St. Louis the liberated river deepened, narrowed, and picked up speed. As it surged southward, it became less populated and poorer. The towns were fewer, funkier, and farther apart: we saw river walls and dying main streets and heard soft rural Missouri accents. At night we sought protection behind towheads or in chutes, a foot above the rushing water, dreaming about rivers only to wake up and drift all day down the immense and mysterious river. We drew closer to the weather and nature and ourselves every day. We saw an America we hadn’t known existed.”
Will Bagley has a degree in history from the University of California at Santa Cruz (1971). Following several jobs, Bagley turned to history full time in 1995. He has since become the author or editor of twenty-plus books, including Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. For his historical studies, he has received awards from the Mormon History Association, the Utah Arts Council, the John Whitmer Historical Association, the Western Writers of America, and Westerners International, among others. He is the series editor of Kingdom in the West: The Mormons and the American Frontier. In 2014, he was named a lifetime Fellow of the Utah State Historical Society. He resides in Salt Lake City.