McGlashan’s History of the Donner Party recalls the fateful expedition of the Donner Party, which got stuck while moving west during winter and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. It was perhaps the most notorious of all pioneering trips during the 19th century.
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 storms sealed their doom. Unable to go forward or back, they were forced to make camp with very little in the way of supplies, and barely adequate shelter. It was heart-wrenching to read about their slow starvation, particularly regarding the children. Knowing what they went through, it’s a miracle any of them survived at all.
I’ll never read it again, but I’m glad to know the true stories of this group of emigrants; and not just the disturbing act that a few of those starving souls were driven to out of utter desperation. Their story is about much more than that.
Author: C. F. McGlashan
Title: History of the Donner Party, a Tragedy of the Sierra
This review was originally published on Goodreads on March 16, 2015.