Lost in the Winter of Manifest Destiny


For those who have read Keithley’s long, epic poem about the Donner Party – or for those of you who consider wading through such poetics a chore, there’s another book that will surely interest you:

The Donner Party Chronicles, by Frank Mullen Jr./Photogtraphs by Marilyn Newton

Author Mullen and photographer Newton have provided maps, illustrations, and photos to supplement Mullen’s somewhat sparse text chronicling the Donner Party’s westward groping of Manifest Destiny. It’s more of a cinematic approach in print to this tragic story, arranged in a diary-like form so the reader might experience something like the day-to-day journey across the western plains, the Sierras, and then the party’s tragic demise, all in an effort to find a shortcut to California, this ending in cannibalism of dead members.

As with any social group, conflicts within the party arose early, and to degree led to the party’s demise. Mullen adds entries from diaries of the Breen family and others that depict the ordeal of the final hundred miles across the Sierras and the interpersonal conflicts that should have been dispensed with for the sake of party unity.

I won’t delve into the specifics of this story, but it’s a rather archetypal story of America’s westward-moving, as well as a classic American example of group dynamics.

My rating: 18 of 20 stars

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