TED DAVIDSON'S PREFACE TO DONNER - REED TRAGEDY
When I set out to make myself an expert on the Donner Party, it
was my desire to take one of American history's most gruesomely
fascinating tragedies and set it in a framework that would sustain
the tension required of sound, moving, dramatic prose. I hoped to
bring the immense number of true, often overwhelming events to life.
I wanted to create concise verbal pictures of the vast beauty, desolation
and horrors of the west to heighten the reality faced by the individuals
and families--their encounters with life and death; courage and
cowardice; starvation, madness and murder; love and hate; cannibalism
At first I thought I could in some way refuse to fictionalize
and insist on complete historical accuracy--only presenting the
immense quantity of actual, exciting incidents. I thought that this
story about one of the most tragic slices of American history dealt
with incidents so shocking that they could stand alone, without
However, reality set in. I soon became aware that I could
not accomplish my earlier goal. I realized that Donner-Reed Tragedy
must be written as a novel in order to breathe life into the experiences
I soon discovered that most writers have been unable to maintain
the incredible tension inherent in the disastrous twists and turns
of the Donner tragedy. They have either lost focus by following
too many individuals or mistakenly concentrating on George Donner--following
a misconception that arose from the naming of the party.
Other than being elected to the nominal position of "captain"
and having the party named after him, George Donner was not
the real leader of the party. He never was a pivotal individual
who personally took action or assumed a true leadership role when
the entire party faced critical predicaments. And, other than leading
the two Donner families, he was not involved in any of the crucial
events the larger party faced after it was trapped by the snow.
He never reached the lake, peak and pass named for him.
A fictional technique that I employed was to have my principal focus
be on a few key individuals who were critical to most of the major
events the party faced. If I had tried to follow each and every
individual--using the plethora of detail in the historical record--it
would have resulted in losing focus and overwhelming the reader
with facts that would not have been crucial to an engaging, dramatic
telling of the entire party's story. This is why I chose to have
my principal focus be on Jim Reed, his wife, and Bill Eddy.
Another fictional tool I used was the creation of dialogue--which
was never recorded by members of the party. I logically believe
that something quite similar to the conversations I have created
must have been spoken.
Also, unlike a nonfictional historical work, I chose to use informal
names, nicknames, or alternate versions of identical first names
to avoid confusing the reader. For example, there were seven men
and boys formally named "William" in the party and three
among the rescuers.
With utmost regard for those involved in the actual events, at no
point do I intentionally depart from or attempt to distort--in either
a positive or negative manner--the history that is preserved in
the writings of those who died or survived the tragic ordeal. I
have profound feelings for them.