Pub. Date:
Oxford University Press
Desperate Passage: The Donner Party's Perilous Journey West

Desperate Passage: The Donner Party's Perilous Journey West

by Ethan RarickEthan Rarick
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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, what it tells us about human nature and about
America's westward expansion, remained shrouded in myth.

Drawing on fresh archaeological 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. But 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, A Desperate Hope 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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780195305029
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 02/04/2008
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 9.30(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

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,

Table of Contents

1. Jumping off
2. Catching Up
3. Vexatiously Slow
4. Pleasure Trip
5. Fine Style
6. The Crucial Decision
7. Gambling
8. A New and Interesting Region
9. Unearthly
10. One Bad Hill
11. Abandoned
12. The Mouth of Hell, The River of Life
13. A Great Snowy Range
14. This Prison
15. The First Death
16. The Forlorn Hope
17. A Low Situation
18. Taking the Field
19. Our Present Calamity
20. Fellowbeings
21. From California, or Heaven?
22. Threshold of Desperation
23. Weeping
24. Gruesome Sights
25. Terror, Terror
26. A Broken Promise
27. Alive Yet
28. None for Tears
29. The Last Man
30. A Beautiful Country
31. A Day of Renown
Author's Note
Selected Bibliography

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