Desperate Passage

Desperate Passage : The Donner Party's Perilous Journey West

4.02 (1,955 ratings by Goodreads)
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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 more

Product details

  • Hardback | 304 pages
  • 162.56 x 238.76 x 30.48mm | 612.35g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195305027
  • 9780195305029
  • 2,006,641

Review quote

Rarick's retelling is solid, shored up with evidence, and complete withthe moral of the story cannibalism buffs look for. * Christine Quigley The Fortean Times *show more

About Ethan Rarick

As a journalist, Ethan Rarick covered politics, crime, business and sports throughout the West. His writing has appeared in many publications, including the Los Angles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He is currently the director of the Center on Politics at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown. He lives in Berkeley, more

Table of contents

PROLOGUE ; 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 ; ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ; AUTHOR'S NOTE ; NOTES ; SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHYshow more

Rating details

1,955 ratings
4.02 out of 5 stars
5 31% (608)
4 45% (874)
3 21% (404)
2 3% (52)
1 1% (17)
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