This riveting book may well be the most historically accurate and detailed telling of the 1846-47 Donner-Reed Party's traumatic journey to California. Of the hundreds of wagon trains traveling west, only the Donner Party left an indelible imprint on our national imagination, the wagon trains fame sealed by its terrible fate. In his fortieth book, Eckert, seven times nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, tells the story of the entire journey—the late start, slow pace, leadership changes, disputes, the fateful decision to follow Lansford Hastings' hyped but untested route which led to one disaster after another—deaths from natural causes, accidents, fights, and a murder before they reached California-as the group fell behind all the others traveling that year. Of course, this all led to their entrapment in the Eastern Sierra in one of the harshest Sierra winters ever recorded. Includes the stories of the party members who forged ahead seeking help, and the several parties of rescuers who came to their aid, including the shocking murder of two of the rescuers, an incident brushed aside in many previous accounts.
Eckerts masterful telling brings alive the Donner Party's 88 members and the fates of the eleven families and numerous single men who risked all, of whom just 51 survived. He enriches the compelling tale with vivid descriptions of the colorful characters, both in the party and among those they met: mountain men, native peoples both hostile and helpful, and more. This poignant and dramatic account provides a rigorously accurate and comprehensive telling of one of Americas great pioneer sagas.