July 24, 2014

History Of The Donner Party: A Tragedy Of The Sierra By Charles F. McGlashan (Book Review)

This is a review of the non-fiction book History of the Donner Party: a Tragedy in the Sierra by Charles F. McGlashan. The book was first published in 1880. The one reviewed below is the 2004 edition. This edition contained an introduction by John P. Langellier.

The tragic story of the Donner Party is one that will without a doubt make anyone's blood curdle. Comparing it to a horror story would be a gross understatement. Not only did the events truly happen, they were events that are too dark and often unimaginable. We are talking about men sawing off the limbs of their dead compatriots just so they can seek nourishment and not end up with the same fate. We are talking about mothers watching helplessly as their young children freeze if not starve to death. We are talking about human corpses lying about in the snow inside and outside of hastily-built cabins deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Such is the tragic story of the Donner Party. It's considered as among the darkest tragedies in Californian history and western migration in general.

In April of 1846, the Donner Party left Springfield, Illinois for a journey that will take them to California. They were joined by more wagons along the way. All in all, the travelers numbered to ninety-two. Only forty-eight of them made it to California. The other forty-two perished along the way. Most of those who perished died from starvation and sickness when the party got stranded deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains. If not for the noble and heroic acts of four relief parties who came to rescue the stranded emigrants, all of them may have perished in the cold snow.

James and Margret Reed, members of the Donner Party
In History of the Donner Party: a Tragedy in the Sierra, author Charles F. McGlashan presents the story of the doomed Donner Party in vivid detail. To make the accounts as complete and accurate as possible, McGlashan interviewed some of the survivors as well as pored over their letters and diaries. He also gleaned over newspaper and journal articles published after the events in the Sierra. Many of these are included in the book.

Needless to say, this is not a book intended for the weak of heart. It's rife with accounts of cannibalism, unimaginable suffering and death. But if you are a history nut, it might be of great interest to you. The events surrounding the Donner Party are very important parts of California's early history. These events embody the difficulties that pioneers had to endure during their westward journeys.

Aside from its historical significance, there's a lot more that can be gleaned from the book. Survival. Heroism. Morality. Religion. McGlashan's History of the Donner Party touched on all of these things. And then some.





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