In late October 1846, the last wagon train of that year's westward migration stopped overnight before resuming its arduous climb over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, unaware that a fearsome storm was gathering force. After months of grueling travel, the 81 men, women and children would be trapped for a brutal winter with little food and only primitive shelter. The conclusion is known: by spring of the next year, the Donner Party was synonymous with the most harrowing extremes of human survival. But until now, the full story of what happened--and what it tells us about human nature and about America's westward expansion--remained shrouded in myth.
Drawing on fresh archeological evidence, recent research on topics ranging from survival rates to snowfall totals, and heartbreaking letters and diaries made public by descendants a century-and-a-half after the tragedy, Ethan Rarick offers an intimate portrait of the Donner party and their unimaginable ordeal: a mother who must divide her family, a little girl who shines with courage, a devoted wife who refuses to abandon her husband, a man who risks his life merely to keep his word. Rarick resists both the gruesomely sensationalist accounts of the Donner party as well as later attempts to turn the 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 of generosity and selfishness, an alloy born of necessity."
A fast-paced, heart-wrenching, clear-eyed narrative history, Desperate Passage casts new light on one of America's most horrific encounters between the dream of a better life and the harsh realities such dreams so often must confront.
©2009 Ethan Rarick; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
I REALLY enjoyed this book. I have listened to it twice in the last three weeks - and don't want it to end. The book is narrated by Christopher Prince, who makes the book enjoyable listening.
Overall a very good book, I was impressed by the detail of available information presented in the book. Part 2 has the story most might know about the actual events at Donner Lake. But listening to the buildup, the wrong decisions, the just plain bad luck, as well as all the 'back story' to the other families involved in this was very interesting to me.
The performance was ok, not bad but not too great either. He reads the story well, what detracted it for me was the numerous 'voice overs' where corrections were made in the reading. They were annoying to me because they're so obvious! Changes in sound quality and sometimes volume in the voice overs just got to be a bit bothersome to me. I've heard many books were the voice overs are seamless or almost totally undetectable. This isn't one of those!
Again a very good story! If interested in the story of the Donner Party, I'd recommend this version especially due to the detail of the story told.
I enjoy non-fiction history books. Audible is allowing me to catch up on all those classics I should have read before but never got around to. I have a long commute to work and audio books make the drive go so much faster.
I love reading personal accounts of historical events. Prior to listening to this book I knew very little about the Donner party experience and not much about America's westward expansion in the 1800s. This story is truly amazing for two reasons. The personal courage and perseverance of those involved is beyond anything I could imagine. Also, this book is so well researched and documented that I have confidence the story occurred just as it is written. Some might consider this book just because of the well known accounts of cannibalism but there is so much more. It is a story of commitment, resolve, and heroism in the face of extreme trials.
The book gives more information and a fuller understanding of what happened during this point in history. The term "Donner Party" has become a short hand for stupid decisions and cannibalism. This book shows that the situation really resulted from many tiny decisions and an unusually bad and early winter. A better understanding of the people involved as well as America during this period really draws you into the story. Truth really is stranger than fiction.
No, GREAT VOICE. Occasional pronunciation issues and a couple of inflections that lead you to believe he's NOT listening to the story he's reading. Neither is the director. I would listen to him again, he only made me wince 5 or 6 times.
Only listened to the audio.
That other book where people eat each other's dead bodies (the plane crash in the mountains that happened in the last 20 years , don't remember the name).
No. The narration was flawless, though.
Cry, a little. I was sad that some people chose to kill and eat their dogs rather than eat the already dead bodies of family members. I don't see eating someone who is dead in order to survive is shameful. I do see killing your faithful dog and eating it is shameful if there is an alternative.
The book could have been half the length, taking away the digression about cannibalism, which is what people, including myself, are fascinated with, but the cannibalism was not the most important part of the Donner parties journey. To me the interesting aspect was how the survivors and witnesses felt a change in the moral view of the world.
Karen of Northern Michigan
Enjoyed the book. The author did his research and gives an interesting story of how the trip came about and how it affected each group of people in it.. I found it very interesting, yet felt their pain and hardships while listening to it.. Amazing what people went through back then compared to our jumping in a car and driving cross country today..
Not really. I would have much rather enjoyed another more captivating book.
The narrator sounds like a dad scolding his 10 year old son up in the bedroom. The tone could be expressed by the phrase " How many times have I told you not to etc., etc, etc, "
I appreciate the research put into Desperate Passage but it could have been written in a more concise manner, and certainly could have had a better narrator.
No. It is a fascinating story, but I got so distracted by the narrator's inflection, which was nearly identical for every sentence, that I had a hard time focusing on the actual events in the story. He often does not give us enough time to absorb things before moving on to a new topic, which I also found distracting, and I often could not tell when a character was speaking, or whether it was the author.
I'm a bibliophile since early childhood. Love speculative fiction, odd premises, mystery novels that teach about different places and times.
This could have been a very grotty book. It's not. It's a very clear eyed view of the Oregon/Calfornia trail. And the very real risks involved. I found it quite compelling.
This is a superb book, especially for listening to while driving in the country traversed by the Donner party members. The amount of research that went into this book is overwhelming. I've never heard of some of these details, nor had I ever studied the event enough to realize the complexity.
It wasn't just that they got stranded on the wrong side of the summit when the snows of Truckee started falling in earnest. Over the course of the trip, there were times over and over when they could have gained a day here or there, thwarted by a flooded river for a loss of three days in one spot, taking an extra day off for a 4th of July hangover, etc. If any one of those events had been changed, sending the party on down the trail just a little faster and sooner, they'd have been able to crest the ridge and struggle into the California settlements.
Poor decision making made an impact, as did a shyster named Hastings, who promoted the Hastings Cutoff as a way to save time. It turned out to be an undeveloped trail that hadn't even been fully traversed by wagons, and the promoter didn't wait to guide them as promised. Trail progress was gained in inches as the roadway was built literally in front of the struggling train.
Had they stuck with known trails, they'd have made much easier and faster progress overall. They lost cattle and oxen during the trip, and when they finally gave up to winter over at the lake, they didn't have enough supplies. Animals wandered away, died under the deep snows, not to be found without grave difficulty. Even when found, the starved animals provided little food.
There were several efforts to push through to California with a few of the members, each group given a name, such as "The Forlorn Hope." Some made it through to Sutter's Fort, and Sutter himself helped in assembling relief parties to rescue the stranded. Some of these foundered in the foothills and lost heart themselves as they rationalized that these people in the mountains must be dead, or else doing just fine with all that livestock to eat.
Meanwhile, the stranded travelers, living in rude cabins roofed with ox hides, were eating everything they could, including the hides that formed their roofs. Eventually cannibalism became the only option left, for all but one family. The escape parties also engaged in cannibalism. The dead had been emaciated when they passed, and they provided little sustenance for those who yet lived.
Tamsen Donner is a heroine, nursing a dying husband while sending her children to safety. The first time she sent them away, paying their guardians a substantial sum of money for their trouble, the guardians promptly dumped the kids with another stranded family that was camping a ways away. A second attempt at getting the kids out went better, but there were casualties in that party. Tamsen didn't go out with the last big group, electing to check on her husband once again, 7 miles by trail in their shabby cabin. She was going to catch up to them, but it was an unrealistic dream, as even strong men could only do some 5 miles or so a day in the snows, and Tamsen had been on starvation rations for months. Of her fate, we have only Lewis Keseberg swearing that she showed up at his cabin after George Donner died, and that she died that night, presumably from the stress of her journey from their own cabin. Did Keseberg help her into that final darkness? Rob her of family treasure?
It's a fascinating tale, though a tragic one. We know a luxurious life today compared to those struggling travelers who spent months in wet or icy clothing, huddled around a sputtering fire while gales howled through the drafty walls.
The narration is very well done.
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