Unfortunate Emigrants: Narratives of the Donner Party
At the beginning of November 1846 a party of California-bound emigrants was trapped by early snow in the Sierra Nevada. Despite their efforts to escape and the efforts of others to rescue them, by the following April nearly half the company had died of cold and starvation. Some of the emigrants had resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. Though this last detail has become synonymous with the Donner party, it was merely the culmination of a long series of events in which both human weakness and the forces of nature played a role. The story has been told many times and in many ways over the past 150 years until it has become something of an icon in American culture. On the other hand, professional historians have generally dealt with the subject only in the context of works on larger aspects of the westward movement. In the broader historical perspective, the disaster is of minor significance - it had little effect on subsequent events. Yet, if the effect of the Donner party on history has been slight, its impact on people has been profound. Since 1847 the ill-fated wagon train has figured in hundreds of works, not only histories and articles but also novels, short stories, juvenile literature, poems, plays, films, documentaries, even an opera and a ballet. Though the lurid fact of cannibalism is the Donner party's best-known aspect, the story's wide appeal cannot be attributed to mere prurience, for most of these works gloss over the horrors. Instead, the motivating factor appears to lie in the human story: unlike many epics of the American West, the Donner saga is not centered on the exploits of a few exceptional men who sought adventure but on families, on ordinary people caught up inan extraordinary situation. It is a dreadful irony that hopes of prosperity, health, and a new life in California's fertile valleys led some only to misery, hunger, and death on her stony threshold.
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The tragedy of the Donner Party is a well-known event in the history of the West. The story of the California-bound settlers who became trapped in the snows of the Sierra Nevadas and were reduced to ... 閱讀評論全文