Ordeal by Hunger written by George R. Stewart, originally published in 1936, is said to still be the definitive book on the Donner Party’s horrific and deadly trek to California in 1846. And one can see why. Stewart’s story is written from historical documents and survivors diaries, and covers just about every detail one could think to add about the people, events, outcomes, and, refreshingly for a nonfiction book, emotions.
In 1846, eighty-seven people- men, women, and many children- set out to California upon a new route that was promised to be faster than the old. A series of misfortunes plagued the group, and by the time they reached the Sierra Mountains, the company had lost many oxen and not a few people in the desert they had crossed. But the mountains were no refuge. Blizzards left the party trapped in the mountains; many died, and manywho survived were forced to cannibalism to do so.
The book, being written quite a time ago, was almost humorous in parts (can I say that about a book about such a tragedy?) due to the language Stewart uses, particularly in the stereotypes he uses when discussing the ethnicity of the company, particularly the Irish, Russian, and German gentlemen. But it gave the book a little character I suppose. I enjoyed the reprieve from the stress and terror.