The Indifferent Stars Above
The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride
By Daniel James Brown
(William Morrow, Hardcover, 9780061348105, 352pp.)
Publication Date: May 2009
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In April of 1846, Sarah Graves was twenty-one and in love with a young man who played the violin. But she was torn. Her mother, father, and eight siblings were about to disappear over the western horizon forever, bound for California. Sarah could not bear to see them go out of her life, and so days before the planned departure she married the young man with the violin, and the two of them threw their lot in with the rest of Sarah's family. On April 12, they rolled out of the yard of their homestead in three ox-drawn wagons.
Seven months later, after joining a party of emigrants led by George Donner, Sarah and her family arrived at Truckee Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains just as the first heavy snows of the season closed the pass ahead of them. After a series of desperate attempts to cross the mountains, the party improvised cabins and slaughtered what remained of their emaciated livestock. By early December they were beginning to starve.
Sarah's father, a Vermonter, was the only member of the party familiar with snowshoes. Under his instruction, fifteen sets of snowshoes were hastily constructed from oxbows and rawhide, and on December 15, Sarah and fourteen other relatively young, healthy people set out for California on foot, hoping to get relief for the others. Over the next thirty-two days they endured almost unfathomable hardships and horrors.
In this gripping narrative, Daniel James Brown takes the reader along on every painful footstep of Sarah's journey. Along the way, he weaves into the story revealing insights garnered from a variety of modern scientific perspectivespsychology, physiology, forensics, and archaeologyproducing a tale that is not only spell-binding but richly informative.
“A compelling retelling of the ghastly events surrounding the Donner party. Daniel James Brown, using one survivor’s experience as his focus, moves beyond the cardboard figures depicted in previous accounts and shows how the lucky few endured and survived.”
-Irvin Molotsky, author of The Flag, The Poet and the Song: The Story of the Star-Spangled Banner
“In this gripping narrative, Brown reveals the extremes of endurance that underlie the history of this nation, and more than that, of humanity in any part of the world, even today, surviving great peril in search of a better life.”
“Daniel James Brown brings the myth to life, transforming faint history class memories into gripping reality.”
“Brown draws from the many previously published accounts of the tragedy, letters from the party and those who knew them, accounts of life on the Oregon and California trails, genealogical databases, and his own travel along the trail…but he tells the tale with a novelist’s touch.”
“A skillful, suspenseful study of the Donner Party, narrated from the point of view of a newly married woman…Wading through the many previous accounts of the ill-fated journey, Brown creates a thorough and unique narrative. A moving man-against-nature tragedy that stillresonates today.”