"Donner-Reed Tragedy, a historical novel by Ted Davidson, gives the readers the opportunity to walk alongside the doomed pioneers and shiver with them in their makeshift huts and tents in the 20-foot-deep snow.

Davidson centers his narrative on James Reed, who with George Donner founded the expedition, and William Eddy, who lost his family but rescued many others.

Other characters, such as the Breen family members, aren't as well developed. In all, though, Davidson takes the reader on a trek through history and into the minds of the main characters. Readers walk with the doomed pioneers across plains, deserts and mountains towards the lake that today bears the party's name.

In his research, Davidson became obsessed by the nuts and bolts of the events and by the characters' reaction to unexpected trouble.

 'The story confirms my belief in the amazing potential of ordinary people when they encounter incredible situations,' he said. 'People are capable of accomplishing extraordinary, often superhuman things, both admirable and atrocious, to survive.'

Davidson said he became interested in the Donner Party during a snowshoe hike in the Sierra in the 1950's when an unexpected snowstorm stranded his own party.

'We got to a cabin and it stormed like crazy; the snow was reaching the peak of the roof after a couple days,' he said. 'I wondered what it must have been like for the Donners and the other families.'

He said he tried several times to write a screenplay but finally decided the scope of the story was too big for a two-hour movie.

'Maybe a 10-hour miniseries would do it justice,' Davidson said. 'There's an incredible range of emotions, circumstances, impossible odds, love and hate, life and death, madness and murder, cannibalism and survival.'

Such conflicts can be found on every page of Davidson's novel. The reader witnesses a group of travelers who begin with high hopes and soaring spirits. Unforseen events wear them down and an unmapped 'shortcut' places them at the rear of the emigration of 1846 and at the mercy of early Sierra storms.

Tempers flare, guns and knives are drawn, parents chose between feeding their own broods and sharing with the children of others. Every bad thing that could happen to a wagon train happened to the Donners.

About half the 87 party members died before reaching California and some of them-such as Charles Stanton-gave their lives to help the others. For Davidson, the message of the tragedy is not despair, but hope.

'These people faced insurmountable odds and some of them survived,' he said. 'I doubt if the people living in our culture today could have done the same. To me, this is an incredible story that couldn't possibly be true and yet it is.' ....

In Donner-Reed Tragedy, Davidson gives readers a seat around the campfires and takes them over the snowbound peaks of the Sierra Nevada. He makes us privy to the escalating conflicts that doomed half of the party, and the heroism that saved the survivors. The reader follows bloody footprints in the mud and aches as children starve, mothers weep, and salvation is hampered by a wall of snow.

If you want facts, study history; if you want to live the story, read fiction. In his novel, Davidson goes beyond the archives and tells the truth about the nightmare and the redemption of the unfortunate emigrants."

Frank X. Mullen Jr., Senior Reporter, Reno Gazette Journal,
Author of The Donner Party Chronicles: A Day-by-Day
Account of a Doomed Wagon Train: 1846-1847

When Frank Mullen was discussing Ted's novel with him, Frank excitedly commented on the potential of turning Donner-Reed Tragedy into a movie. Then Frank paused and sadly observed that, "Hollywood has never done justice to the Donner Tragedy." Immediately Ted revealed that he has a completed screenplay for an 8- to 10-hour miniseries, which has yet to be produced. Both the novel and screenplay have the same title and treat the same details.


Ted Davidson has "done what writers need to do. . . created a real nail-biter. . . taken one of history's great tales and set it in a dramatic structure that manages to maintain the stress and the tension that is required of solid dramaturgical craft. . . . What a tale! It confronts life and death, love and hate and every other corner of the human condition. . . . I am sincerely and enormously impressed with this grand effort. It is truly a feast! There's a curious metaphor to describe this particular tale dealing as it does with, among other things, cannibalism. . . . I did truly get caught up in this tale."

Richard Walter, Author, Professor,
Department of Film and Television
University of California, Los Angeles


"As manager of the gift store at Sutter's Fort State Historic Park, I have reviewed many books about the Donner Party. Most of them are works of academic research, and while factual, to the average reader they are about as interesting to read as the phone book. Then there are the fictionalized accounts, which are more fiction than fact. Then I read Donner-Reed Tragedy.

Mr. Davidson has used his talent as a screenwriter and his skill as a researcher to give us the best of both worlds: a book that is both a gripping and accurate account of one of America's most misunderstood and sensationalized events. I truly enjoyed this book.

I was skeptical before I started reading it because so much has been written about the Donner Party, but I really liked it....With all the things I had read before, I had never realized how important Reed was until I read Donner-Reed Tragedy."

Michael Anderson, Manager
Sutter's Fort Trade Store
Sutter's Fort State Historic Park

Sacramento, California


"Donner-Reed Tragedy is wonderful! Ted Davidson accurately brings the Donner Tragedy to life in a way that no one has done before. I love it. It's destined to become a classic."

Jolene Pate, Administrative Specialist
Fort Bridger Museum
Fort Bridger, Wyoming

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