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History of the Donner Party, A Tragedy of the Sierra

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  359 ratings  ·  51 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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Betty
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
...more
Ariel
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
Cate
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
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
...more
Cathy
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.
Christiane
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
...more
Therese
$0.0

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
...more
Linda
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
...more
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.
Lisa
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
...more
Barbara Bogner Lee
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.
Sara
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.

I
...more
Patricia J
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.
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
Connie
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
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
...more
Terri
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.
Luke
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.
Pete
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
Bill
Not exactly what I'd call the cheeriest read of my life, but it's an amazing account of what these people endured, and written at a time when some of the survivors were still around to give the author a firsthand account.
Not for the squeamish, but it also doesn't overly dramatize the inevitable.
Unbelievable to me what they endured, considering I'm not sure I could survive without cable TV and Air conditioning.
Alxandra
I almost didn't read this book because I seem to recall documentaries being critical of this book. I'm sure that this book has its limitations, but it is fascinating and provides a detailed account of the Donner Party, but I thoroughly enjoyed also learning about pioneer life.

Until I read this book, I'd not realized how much life has changed with cell phones, easy transportation, and GPS.
Cameron
This account of the Donner Party has some remarkable detail, but its fatal flaw is that the author took great pains to gloss over the accounts of cannibalism and make apologies for the survivors. He pretty clearly dropped all objectivity when it came to that portion of the story, which is unfortunate. Otherwise, it is a fairly comprehensive review of the incident.
Marilyn
We all know the "story" of the Donner Party and how some were able to survive. Written in the late 19th century, this history is taken from recollections and interviews with still-living survivors, as well as from contemporary sources: letters, newspaper articles, etc. The language and attitude is definitely 19th century, but the facts still remain ghastly.
Tony
This is a much better written version of this tragic bit of history. Many years ago, I read a different, more sensationalized version which I didn't enjoy reading, but this book is based on interviews with survivors, their families, descendants, rescuers, and people who knew them personally. It's good to finally read what really happened.
Chelsea
"Five of my companions had died in my cabin, and their stark and ghastly bodies lay there day and night, seemingly gazing at me with their glazed and staring eyes. I was too weak to move them had I tried".

"I was not the cause of my misfortune, and God Almighty had provided only this one horrible way for me to subsist".
Brandi Cooper
It goes to show you that when you think you know something, you still have a lot to learn. I first learned of the Donner party as a child. In my youth there is no possible way to understand the tragic events of that winter. Even now as an adult, I am humbled by the strength of not only the adults but children of this party.
April
Well, I only read it because a guy I work with has a Nook too. So he let me "Borrow" it. I can speed read so that's what I chose to do with this one.
Since it was written only a few years after the Donner Party incident, the author's writing is a bit "Twee."

Pirate
This was a thoroughly engaging read. McGlashan provides the names of all the involved persons when they split up, die, or do something else. If the version would be edited with this information in a footnote, the book would be fully 4, 4.5 stars.
Tish williams
Historical stuff is always a good read. Depressing yet fascinating. The book does not go into depth though. It is a vague account of the tragedy. This is not a book to reread over and over. I finshed this today.
Jenna
Quite interesting - written about 30 years after the Donner Party's experience. Not knowing much about the Donner Party prior to reading this, I found it quite humanizing and a unique perspective.
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From The Desk Of Truckee's C.F. Mc Glashan: His Letters To Eliza Donner Houghton, Donner Party Survivor, Investigative Report Of A Massacred Wagon Train, Truckee Tahoe Adventures And More History of the Donner Party (Illustrated)

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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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