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History of the Donner Party: A Tragedy of the Sierra

3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  514 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
In 1846, a band of California-bound pioneers took a fateful shortcut that left them stranded and starving in the frigid Sierras, where someresorted to cannibalism. This gripping account by a newspapermanwho interviewed survivors and studied the expedition members' journals reveals not only a stark tale of desperation but also inspiring acts of heroism. ...more
Paperback, 162 pages
Published November 3rd 2006 by Hard Press (first published 1907)
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(showing 1-30 of 985)
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Jan 18, 2016 Leli rated it liked it
This book has convinced me that I am a soft, spongy, skilless young woman who if - as I sometimes daydreamed about as a young Little House on the Prairie reader - you dropped me down in a pioneer-days wagon train to live among them, would die in hours, if not minutes. Holy shit am I glad I went crosscountry in modern times.
Betty (Bookish Regards)
I only knew the most basic facts about this tragedy before reading this book. I had no idea that nearly half of the people died, or that there were so many infants and young children. Thankfully, the author didn't focus heavily on the disturbing parts, but told the entire story in a matter of fact, yet compassionate, way.

The travelers were hit with misfortune and tragedy from the start, and by the time they reached the mountains, they had already been through a lot. The early arrival of winter s
Feb 15, 2012 Ariel rated it liked it
I THOUGHT i knew the story of the donner party, but there was so much left out and skewed from retelling over time and summarized in history books. i really enjoyed this very dated yet factual account taken mostly from letters and court transcripts. what stood out for me mostly were the number of mothers and children involved - and the number of mothers who decided to risk the trip over the summit alone for their children (and survived! unlike many of the men who undertook the journey!). i thoug ...more
Marc Stephan
May 01, 2016 Marc Stephan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The Audiobook was not unlike the ill-fated Donner Party. It started off with an interesting premise, but folly after folly kept befelling the narrative and became a convoluted mess trapped in a storm of boring asides and actual errors that wasn't the author's original doing. While the author supplied plenty of old timey narratives that didn't hold up well under my modern-day 2 second attention span by himself, the Audiobook presented one noticeable and amusing problem in that they completely for ...more
Jun 03, 2015 Cate rated it liked it
Shelves: historical
The most amazing parts of this story are the facts that dispel the myths and legends surrounding the Donner party. What truly amazes me is the courage and ambition of the party members to move west to California during such a difficult time where life was so uncertain. The other thing that struck me as remarkable is the number of people who did everything they could to come to their aid--from slaughtering their own winter store of cattle to try to bring food to the starving to crossing the mount ...more
Adrian Rose
Dec 04, 2015 Adrian Rose rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This book, originally published in 1880, is still considered the most reliable history of the original events that befell the Donner wagon train while it was trying to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the fall and winter of 1846-47. The author, who was alive at the time of the events he records, has taken his narrative from reports made by actual survivors of the episode. Though not the first time during the colonization of the North American continent that starvation had led to such sufferi ...more
Stefani G. Cowan
Best Donner narrative I have read

This was written close enough in time to the Donner Party tragedies that the survivors were still alive and those who were willing were interviewed by the author. The writing reveals the somewhat flowery prose and sentiments of the time, which I feel adds, rather than detracts, from the story. The author took the time to research and relate the lives of principal characters before and after the historical events, which I found refreshing. He manages to humanize c
Justine Johnson
"To forever supplant these distorted and fabulous reports--which have usually been sensational newspaper articles--the survivors have deemed it wise to contribute the truth. The truth is suffiently terrible."

I'm not normally into reading about history, but this was a recommendation from my dad and I've been in kind of a dark/tragic story mood for a while so it sounded interesting. I've known of the Donner Party for a long time, but I didn't know anything outside of them being trapped somewhere c
Aug 26, 2011 Cathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this as research for the family history I'm writing. My cousin, Jay Fosdick, was one of those who died and was consumed.
It is a very moving book about an epic American tragedy.
Mar 21, 2009 Christiane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, disaster
I recently read a children's book called "Patty Reed's Doll" which told the story of one family in the Donner Party through the eyes of a doll one of the little girls managed to carry all the way to California. Remarkably, the entire Reed family survived their ordeal in the mountains.

C. McGlashan's book is one of the earliest accounts of the Donner Pary. Originally published in 1880, McGlashan was able to interview 24 of the remaining 26 survivors and was given access to private letters and dia

I can't imagine how anybody survived this ordeal, and I was just reminded how cold it could be while watching the news this morning. It is only November 9 and it was a winter wonderland at Donner Pass. This telling of this horrific story was written about 30 years after my interviewing survivors, going over letters, journals, and perhaps some newspaper reports. I'm not sure. The writing style goes back and forth, so it is not the easiest to follow, not to mention there are so many people inv
Feb 03, 2012 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What do you think of when Donner's Pass is mentioned?
Cannibalism? This group of about ninety people including men, women and children, struck westward to Calfornia from east of the Mississippi River in early 1846. They took a short cut that led them through the Bonneville salt flats where they nearly perished from thirst, the elements and breakdowns of their wagon trains. Some of their animals ran off searching for water. The animals were never found.As they srarted across the Sierra Nevadas, t
Cynthia S Elacqua
A sad story of human frailty

The 19th century language is a little overblown for modern taste, but the writer seemed to make an honest attempt to research from available sources. Certainly there was enough heroism, villainy, and downright foolish human behavior to make quite a fascinating history. Stories of the West all too frequently ignore how very ill-prepared many pioneers were.

This was a real page-turner, and kept me up at night. Not for the weak stomach.
Sep 08, 2012 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this account of the Donner Party especially because it was written
closely to the time of the actual tragedy and contains some input from actual survivors. Sadly many facts of this event must be left open to interpretation with the scarcity of artifacts and recorded history. Much drama and sensationalism has eaten away at this heart breaking moment in history, even if Hollywood has yet to assign it it's own Jack and Rose. This book was a more basic interpretation of the story based on
Sidney Weber
Dec 08, 2015 Sidney Weber rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Compelling story

Although the story of the Donner party is often mentioned, the details were not known to me before reading this book. The horrors and courage of these pioneers are nearly unbelievable and make for a compelling story. The style of this book is not the best, but this seems irrelevant in light of the story.
Barbara Bogner Lee
May 13, 2015 Barbara Bogner Lee rated it liked it
Good information on such a powerful, historical event. Writing is biased to author's very strong preferences. Excessive amount of nostalgic praising of certain members of the Donner party and members of the relief parties. Constant attempts to sway the readers opinion on believing this or not believing that. Tiresome.
This history can be hard to read tone-wise. McGlashan writes an extremely melodramatic sentence. McGlashan is also not very objective, and he makes many excuses for less than admirable behavior. Once you get past those problems, though, it is the first big history of the tragedy. McGlashan interviewed over 20 survivors (and maintained friendships with them), which doesn't help with his subjective point of view, but does lend a certain immediacy and sense of really being there to his narrative.

M. Donner
Perks of being written in 1907: the author has living subjects to draw from in his research of the Donner party. The events of this tragedy were also relatively recent to the publication of this book, so he documents many primary sources.

Non-perks of being written in 1907: I wanted to spork my eyeballs out with some of the attitudes (especially the author's) surrounding Native Americans and other non-whites. Also, the author takes what could have been an excellent time to utilize primary letter
Patricia J
Jun 04, 2015 Patricia J rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dinner Party History

This is a factual account of the Dinner party written from primary sources. Somewhat archaic in nature, complete with poetry it portrays the time period well and serves as a cautionary tale.
Jan 18, 2016 Ashley marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Own on Kindle.

FS: "Three miles from Truckee, Nevada County, California, lies one of the fairest and most picturesque lakes in all the Sierra."

LS: "In a few years more they all will have disappeared."
Dehesa Charter School
I have read other accounts of the Donner Party and this one seemed to cover more of the interpersonal conflicts that occurred during the long journey, although I still finished the book with a lot of questions. One of my biggest questions was why the families all settled so far from each other when they were stuck at Donner Pass. I also found the story a little confusing when many of the parties began to split up and go for help. It was difficult to read because of the unrelenting tragedy and ha ...more
Jan 06, 2013 Connie rated it liked it
Incredible story of human survival under the most dire and unsurvivable circumstances. I wanted to read this because after witnessing some Sierra winters firsthand, I could not imagine anyone surviving such exposure to the elements for so many months. The writing style is old-fashioned and lovely. The sympathy of the author to these emigrants' hardships is palpable. He was able to interview actual survivors and that establishes a very credible factual base. There are many characters in the story ...more
Terry Tanner
Apr 29, 2014 Terry Tanner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent Read!

I was afraid that the writing would be hard to understand because of the time period it was written in. It wasn't at all. I love history and this book provided an incredibly descriptive picture of this tragic occurrence in American history.

Some have stated that they became bored with the second half of the story but I certainly don't know why...I couldn't stop reading no matter how late it got!

This book was based on diaries and testimonies of those who lived this tragedy. That o
Roseann Majors
Very Interesting

We have all heard about The Donner Party. This is a very thorough account of what happened in a place not long ago; the place is Truckee Nevada. Wow.
Jun 28, 2014 Terri rated it really liked it
This was originally published thirty-three years after the Donner Party was stranded at Donner lake. McGlashan interviewed the survivors, and this book is not only a history of the event, but also a defense of the cannibalism that saved many members' lives. I enjoyed it for its sense of immediacy and the nineteenth century language.
Todd Daily
Very thorough and very flowery writing of the period. Got to be a bit tedious. There might be a more modern and easier history of Donner Party available.
Jun 02, 2014 Luke rated it really liked it
This is one of the most tragic stories I have ever read. The sadness that is felt through this story is painful but you can't stop reading.
Katie Jernigan
I didn't finish the book. I just needed to remove it from "currently reading", but "stopped reading because I didn't care for the writing" wasn't an option.
Aug 06, 2015 Dale rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great Book! I've read this book three times.
Oct 19, 2011 Pete rated it really liked it
McGlashan wrote the book 32 years after the Donner Party and was able to interview many of the survivors and references published accounts of what happened to that doomed wagon train from the time of their journey. He highlights many of the heroes- Reed, Stanton, Stark, Mrs. Breen, Tamsen Donner, W. Eddy and Cap'n Sutter. He doesn't discuss Keseberg, Hastings and the other supposed villains as much as others have done. Although the story has been told and retold since it first occurred, it's sti ...more
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“December 16, 1846, the fifteen composing the "Forlorn Hope," left Donner Lake. January 17, 1847, as they reached Johnson's ranch; and February 5th Capt. Tucker's party started to the assistance of the emigrants. This first relief arrived February 19th at the cabins; the second relief, or Reed's party, arrived March 1st; the third, or Foster's, about the middle of March; and the fourth, or Fallon's, on the seventeenth of April. Upon the arrival of Capt. Fallon's company, the sight presented at the cabins beggars all description. Capt. R. P. Tucker, now of Goleta, Santa Barbara County, Cal., endeavors, in his correspondence, to give a slight idea of the scene.” 0 likes
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