Desperate Passage The Donner Party's Perilous Journey West

Format: Hardcover
Pub. Date: 2008-02-04
Publisher(s): Oxford University Press
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In late October 1846, the last wagon train of that year's westwardmigration stopped overnight before resuming its arduous climb over the SierraNevada Mountains, unaware that a fearsome storm was gathering force. Aftermonths of grueling travel, the 81 men, women and children would be trapped for abrutal winter with little food and only primitive shelter. The conclusion isknown: by spring of the next year, the Donner Party was synonymous with the mostharrowing extremes of human survival. But until now, the full story of whathappened, what it tells us about human nature and about America's westwardexpansion, remained shrouded in myth. Drawing on fresh archaeological evidence, recent research on topicsranging from survival rates to snowfall totals, and heartbreaking letters anddiaries made public by descendants a century-and-a-half after the tragedy, EthanRarick offers an intimate portrait of the Donner party and their unimaginableordeal: a mother who must divide her family, a little girl who shines withcourage, a devoted wife who refuses to abandon her husband, a man who risks hislife merely to keep his word. But Rarick resists both the gruesomelysensationalist accounts of the Donner party as well as later attempts to turnthe survivors into archetypal pioneer heroes. "The Donner Party," Rarick writes,"is a story of hard decisions that were neither heroic nor villainous. Often,the emigrants displayed a more realistic and typically human mixture ofgenerosity and selfishness, an alloy born of necessity." A fast-paced, heart-wrenching, clear-eyed narrative history, A Desperate Hopecasts new light on one of America's most horrific encounters between the dreamof a better life and the harsh realities such dreams so often mustconfront.

Author Biography

Ethan Rarick has written about politics, crime, business and sports throughout the West. His work has appeared in many publications, including the Los Angles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, and he is the author of California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown. He lives in Berkeley, California.

Table of Contents

Jumping off
Catching Up
Vexatiously Slow
Pleasure Trip
Fine Style
The Crucial Decision
A New and Interesting Region
One Bad Hill
The Mouth of Hell, The River of Life
A Great Snowy Range
This Prison
The First Death
The Forlorn Hope
A Low Situation
Taking the Field
Our Present Calamity
From California, or Heaven?
Threshold of Desperation
Gruesome Sights
Terror, Terror
A Broken Promise
Alive Yet
None for Tears
The Last Man
A Beautiful Country
A Day of Renown
Author's Note
Selected Bibliography
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

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