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The Archaeology of the Donner Party University of Nevada Press Donald L. Hardesty

31st August 2012 History Books 9 Comments

The Archaeology of the Donner Party offers a new interpretation of the history of the Donner Party, based on the careful analysis of recently discovered artifacts. By supplementing the documentary record with the fruits of their scientific interpretation of physical remains, Hardesty and his colleagues not only provide exciting new information about the Donner Party but suggest promising avenues for further research.

“… a significant book… The result is good history and good archaeology.” — Western Historical Quarterly –This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Donald L. Hardesty is Mamie Kieberg Professor of Historic Preservation and Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno, and author or editor of six other books. –This text refers to the Paperback edition.

“… a significant book… The result is good history and good archaeology.” — Western Historical Quarterly –This text refers to the Paperback edition.

The Archaeology of the Donner Party (Wilbur S. Shepperson Series in History and Humanities)

  • 9 responses to "The Archaeology of the Donner Party University of Nevada Press Donald L. Hardesty"

  • Gregory McGuire
    5:50 on August 31st, 2012
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    The full-color, glossy photographs of major landmarks and points of interest along the Emigrant Trail from Springfield, MO to Johnson’s Ranch in Bear Valley are stunning. The color photos, all taken by Marilyn Newton, are grouped together in the beginning of the book, comprising 20 slick pages of almost 50 photos. It’s hard to believe that wagon ruts from over 150 years ago still exist in places; happily, our continuous farming, building and paving haven’t obliterated all traces of the route that so many people rode–and walked–in order to reach California.

    Portraits, maps, drawings and sketches from the period are interspersed with sepia-toned contemporary photographs, some taken by Newton and some by other photographers, and appear on every page of the book. “The Donner Party Chronicles” is visually rich and stimulating. The area around Donner Lake and the route the relief parties followed are depicted in all seasons of the year. Even in black-and-white, the photos of Donner Lake and the surrounding mountains demonstrate the ruggedness of the terrain and deeply impress upon the reader the hopelessness the members of the Donner Party must have felt upon being snowed-in at the lake.

    The book reads like a journal that would have been kept by one of the emigrants traveling with the Donner Party. The text is reprinted from installments journalist Frank Mullen, Jr. published in the weekly newspaper “The Reno Gazette-Journal” over the course of an entire year. The daily routine followed, problems encountered, and decisions made by the Donner Party are chronicled in a concise manner. The entries are short, most three or four paragraphs in length.

    One very interesting feature of “The Donner Party Chronicles” is the map of the Emigrant Trail that appears on every left-hand page of the book, with the progress of the doomed emigrants clearly marked with a red dot. As you read along through the book, you see on every other page exactly where the emigrants were as the day’s events took place. I found this map extremely helpful and fascinating. Watching the movement of the Donner Party as they traveled on foot at the pace of slow, plodding oxen made me better able to understand how great an undertaking their overland journey was. I shared this book with my husband, my Dad and my father-in-law, and they enjoyed it almost as much as I did!

    This book is well worth the price, for the interesting text as well as the terrific photos; you can easily find what you’re looking for in the pages, as each page is dated and the day’s entry fairly short.

  • Tony Simcox
    7:03 on August 31st, 2012
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    Read this book after reading “Frozen in Time” (about the Franklin expedition lost in the arctic) and “Alive” (about a 1972 plane crash in the Andes), both terrible and true tales of people forced to fight death and starvation.

    This book is as stunning as the other two!

    The book is well researched. Dramatic. Brings to light details and hypothesis of how these people coped in the face of death.

    It is interesting seeing this team piece together the Donner party’s activities.

    Fantastic read if your into human adventure & spirit!

  • notsure
    14:25 on August 31st, 2012
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    The Donner Party Chronicles is an amazing book, written like a journal of someone who came along with the party during the summer of 1846. The associated add historical perspective and the photos and maps make you feel like you are on the trail. The writing is excellent.

  • Anand Ikona
    18:04 on August 31st, 2012
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    Frank Mullen is a superb newspaper journalist who combines the enterprising skills and objectivity of an investigative reporter with the wordsmithery of a talented feature writer. Mullen obviously took copious notes to piece together the history of the Donner Party from many sources, including retracing the path of the wagon train. His “daily” reporting in the book, which reads like a journal of events, provides as authentic a record as we are likely to get of that ill-fated (ill-feted) human drama. The pages, with photographs and maps, bring the characters to life.

  • tellmewhy
    22:05 on August 31st, 2012
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    The book is a real-time narrative of the Donner Party’s journey, winding up with their entrapment and cannibalism in the winter of 1846-47. It’s easy to read and the pictures, maps and journal entries add excitement and realism. Could not put it down and am reading it again.

  • f oracle
    23:51 on August 31st, 2012
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    If you only read one book about the Donner Party, make it this one! The Donner Chronicles tells the story of doomed pioneers and their struggle to survive. It keeps the reader at the edge of his seat and provides great detail of the period and the people. Highly recommended for history buffs who want to read history as though it’s a novel instead of a dry textbook. Great photos, maps and graphics add to the text.

  • Peter Richards
    12:51 on September 1st, 2012
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    Frank Mullen has added an important book to the history of Donner Party. The tragedy has been the focus of writing since the spring of 1847, but Mullen has found a fresh way to make the story understandable and, perhaps more importantly, human.

    The book is a daily chronolgy of the year that it took the party to travel from Illinois to California, and each two-page spread of this large book is carefully laid out and presents a mix of graphics and text. It is rewarding if read straight through, yet very accessible if your reading style is more “grazing” than linear.

    Mullen clearly has done his homework. The sheer volume of detail and complexity in the story can be overwhelming, and Mullen includes the details that are needed to clarify and develop the people in the story. He includes wonderful quotes from diaries and supporting material, and drawings of interesting side issues such as an analysis of the probable shape of the “Pioneer Palace Car.” Additionally, Marilyn Newton’s photographs of the trail as seen today make it real for a modern reader.

    When I have given this book as a gift to anyone with an interest in American History, it has been very well received. A truly great book.

  • Betty Monier
    19:57 on September 1st, 2012
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    Professor of Historic Preservation and Anthropology Donald Hardesty presents The Archaeology Of The Donner Party, an extensively researched history of an ill-fated expedition to California in the winter of 1846-1847. Trapped by snow in the uppermost reaches of the Sierra Nevada, half of the Donner Party perished from starvation; the remaining half had to cannibalize their dead to survive. The tragedy became fuel for legends, folklore, and stories about westward expansion; but what truly happened? The Archaeology Of The Donner Party turns to the science of archaeology to unravel long-standing mysteries. Contributions by Michael Brodhead, Donald Grayson, Susan Lindstrom, and George Miller aid the author in gathering as much raw data as possible, some of which is offered in the form of charts for the reader’s perusal; the result is an astute cross-examination of the telltale footprints of history. A handful of black-and-white The Archaeology Of The Donner Party is welcome not only for its meticulous reconstruction of a devastating tragedy, but also as an example of how archaeology can aid in the study of relatively recent history as surely as the history of civilizations from thousands of years ago.

  • dasein redux
    21:20 on September 1st, 2012
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    The strong point of the book is the day by day account of the Donner Party’s journey. Mullen writes as if he were actually on the trail with the party, and the reader has that same sense of being there. Mullen’s writing style makes this book the best Donner Party telling since George Stewart’s Ordeal By Hunger.

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