The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party BrideThe Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by Daniel James Brown
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 22nd 2015
Pages: 384
ISBN: 0061348112
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Hard choices, bad decisions, exhaustion, poor nutrition, hypothermia, snow blindness, deterioration of health, and a horrible snowstorm…. a perfect storm for disaster.

This book describes the tragedy and survival of members of the Donnor party. The book focuses on Sarah Graves, a new wife who travels with her family and others in search of a better life. They met up with the Donnor party, led by George Donnor and they attempt to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is not an easy trip. The trip was hard and took lives even before the worst of the snow storms hit. They traveled over rough terrain, children died in accidents, animals had injured feet due to the rocks, exhaustion and illness claimed lives. The going was tough, and the women had to work as hard as the men. Then the snow came. It was heavy, the oxen were malnourished and could not go on, the men and women could not go on. Hard choices were made to butcher some of the animals in hopes of not starving as most of their food was gone. But fat is essential to the diet and they did not have it. They were burning calories and were hardly taking any in. Their health was deteriorating, and people were dying. After a heavy snowstorm, Sarah and fourteen others set out on snowshoes for California and encountered death, starvation, freezing, and many horrors.

Out of the 83 people who were trapped in the mountains in the snowstorm, only 45 survived to reach California. The people tried their best, they fought hard and were faced with hard choices. They did not have the luxury of our modern conveniences. They were up again horrible odds and did the best they could.

Most of us have heard of the Donnor party over the years, how they met tragedy and when desperate turned to cannibalism. Below is a diary entry of one of the members, Patrick Breen, of the Donnor party (not from the book) that I found online:

Diary excerpt from Patrick Breen (…)

“Frid 26th
froze hard last night to day clear & warm Wind S: E: blowing briskly. Martha’s jaw swelled with the toothache: hungry times in camp; plenty hides, but the folks will not eat them. We eat them with a tolerable good appetite. Thanks be to Almighty God. Amen. Mrs. Murphy said here yesterday that [she] thought she would Commence on Milt. & eat him. I don’t [think] that she has done so yet; it is distressing. The Donners, 4 days ago, told the California folks that they [would] commence to eat the dead people if they did not succeed, that day or next, in finding their cattle, [which were] then under ten or twelve feet of snow, & [the Donners] did not know the spot or near it; I suppose they have done so ere this time.”

This book not only tells of Sarah Graves journey but also of the journey that the author took in writing this book. Sarah Graves survived the journey but her young husband did not. She did go on to get married two more times and have children.

This book was fascinating, and I learned a lot. This book was extremely well written and informative. The research that went into the writing of this book is impressive. I can’t even imagine what these people had to go through. I hope no one ever experiences such a tragedy. To not only be starving yourself but to watch your children starve and wither. To see your family and friends die, to have to bury them on the side of the road in an unmarked grave and then move on, to watch as your loved ones’ physical and mental health decline. To have to make choices no one should ever have to make.

Highly recommend!