The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party

Candlewick. Sept. 2020. 416p. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9780763663247.
Gr 9 Up–The plight of the infamous Donner Party is told in the form of short essays, prayers, and poems. “Hunger” is the omniscient narrator providing an overview of the activity, with members of the Reed family as the dominant narrators. The perspective of two Miwok guides leading one of the rescue parties shows the effect of Manifest Destiny on Indigenous populations. Divided into sections that follow the party from Illinois to California, the narrative chronicles the arrogance which led to the decision to use a “new” untested trail, and the severe consequences the families suffered as a result. Trapped by early, heavy snowfall, small groups left in search of supplies and assistance. Some made it through and found help. Rescue parties were formed with several attempts made to reach the families at their camps, but some of these rescue parties met the same fate as the families they set out to save. Eventually, the survivors were rescued and taken to Sutter’s Fort. Wolf provides detailed notes and historical context. The names of local tribes and the Indigenous name for the lake the families sheltered at are provided. Brief biographies of the survivors round out the notes.
VERDICT A detailed account of the Donner Party’s travel and survival. A good companion title Skila Brown’s To Stay Alive. For general purchase.

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