Ariel's Reviews > History of the Donner Party: A Tragedy of the Sierra

History of the Donner Party by C.F. McGlashan
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Feb 15, 2012

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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 thought that "the living" by annie dillard was quite possibly the most depressing book of human perseverance, but this (being nonfiction and recounting the detailed death of almost everyone, many of them children, in the 400 or so party of travellers) was by far worse. imagine living on (and feeding your baby) tiny strips of boiled cowhide (hide!) for over three months in a cabin made out of four posts in the subfreezing temperatures!

still, that said, this was quite possibly the most inspiring and incredibly heroic story of human existence that i have ever read. it got me thinking about many americans today: with all our fancy gortex sportswear and sorrel sub freezing boots available, we still may not survive such a situation if faced with it today. there is something in the mindset and drive that existed in these pioneers that i can't imagine in most people today.
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Connie Well said. "Most inspiring and I credibly heroic" for sure


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