Francis Parkman (September 16, 1823 – November 8, 1893) was an American historian, best known as author of The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life and his monumental seven-volume France and England in North America. These works are still valued as history and especially as literature, although the biases of his work have met with criticism. He was also a leading horticulturist, briefly a Professor of Horticulture at Harvard University and the first leader of the Arnold Arboretum, and author of several books on the topic.
Parkman was born in Boston, Massachusetts to the Reverend Francis Parkman Sr. (1788–1852) and Caroline (Hall) Parkman. The senior Parkman was minister of the Unitarian New North Church in Boston from 1813 to 1849. As a young boy, "Frank" Parkman was found to be of poor health, and was sent to live with his maternal grandfather, who owned a 3,000-acre (12 km²) tract of wilderness in nearby Medford, Massachusetts, in the hopes that a more rustic lifestyle would make him more sturdy. In the four years he stayed there, Parkman developed his love of the forests, which would animate his historical research. Indeed, he would later summarize his books as "the history of the American forest." He learned how to sleep and hunt, and could survive in the wilderness like a true pioneer. He later even learned to ride bareback, a skill that would come in handy when he found himself living with the Sioux.
Parkman enrolled at Harvard College at age 16. In his second year he conceived the plan that would become his life's work. In 1843, at the age of 20, he traveled to Europe for eight months in the fashion of the Grand Tour. Parkman made expeditions through the Alps and the Apennine mountains, climbed Vesuvius, and even lived for a time in Rome, where he befriended Passionist monks who tried, unsuccessfully, to convert him to Catholicism.