‘Desperate Passage’ by Ethan Rarick

My Review (5 stars out of 5)

In October 1846, as part of the last wagon train making the westward migration towards California, the group that became known as the Donner Party were forced to dig in at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Unable to make the arduous climb to finish their journey due to the oncoming snows of winter, the group were left trapped without shelter, with little food and woefully ignorant of the fate awaiting them.

Although I was aware of the story of the Donner Party, the facts of their journey were largely new to me. Unlike some writers of historical events, Ethan Rarick has created a very readable and accessible account of an ill-fated trip that left 81 individuals facing a truly horrifying and gruesome future. Having made several mistakes in their choices along the route, the Donners, Reeds and others took the untested Hastings Cut-off in a bid to shorten their journey, but soon found themselves incapable of continuing. With some members of the party already ill, it was inevitable that some would die, though the true horror facing those left alive would haunt the survivors for years afterwards.  

Including new archaeological evidence and recent research, the author paints a vivid picture of life on the trail, highlighting the realities of the emigrants’ plight amid a series of disasters and bad decisions.

An enthralling and horribly compelling read.

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  2 comments for “‘Desperate Passage’ by Ethan Rarick

  1. 06/01/2022 at 4:29 AM

    This sounds right up my street, Colin. I’m going to see if I can find it on Amazon now.


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