SO MUCH MORE THAN CANNIBALISM
A large cross section of the American public continues to be fascinated by the Donner tragedy. However, many people will be surprised and intrigued to learn that there is much more to the tragedy than they had ever known. Cannibalism is only one small part of the long, complex story. It confronts life and death; courage and cowardice; starvation, madness and murder; love and hate; cannibalism and survival. For example, before the party became trapped by the snow and ultimately resorted to cannibalism, it unexpectedly had to cut a trail through wilderness mountains--17 days to go 36 miles! Then members fought six days and nights to cross 85 miles of the waterless Great Salt Desert; amazingly no one died! Soon they realized that the new cutoff they had taken to save time was 125 miles longer--not 350 miles shorter! When cannibalism did take place, it occurred at four different places--each unrelated to the other! Of the 42 deaths: 9 were killed--six being cold-blooded murder; 32 died of starvation; at least 23 of the dead were eaten!
Cannibalism has always exerted a ghastly fascination, and after the tragic events, cannibalism soon became the most frequently noted and remembered feature of the of the now-legendary Donner tragedy. Today, readers are sophisticated enough to accept a realistic, yet sensitive treatment of cannibalism. When familiar with the entire story, readers will realize not only that the survivors who ate human flesh did so out of necessity (being driven by and often crazed by starvation), but that cannibalism was only one small part of the complex, extensive story, as members of the party faced an incredible number of challenges and catastrophes.
Many writers have attempted to relate the disastrous twists and turns of this tragedy. However, they have been unable to maintain the incredible tension inherent in the events. They 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 rather nominal position of "captain" and having the party named after him, George Donner was not the real leader of the party. He never was the pivotal person who made major decisions or took leadership action when the larger party faced critical situations. He was not involved in many of the most important events after the party was trapped by the snow, and he never reached the lake, peak and pass named for him.
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