That epic of endurance, the Donner Party crossing, is retold here with informal familiarity and retains the full horror and heroism of this ordeal. Concentrated primarily on James Frazier Reed, as much a leader of the wagon train as the Donners, the account sets out with them in 1846 when 87 members in all were to make their way westward. By midsummer, tensions among them increased- particularly between the surly German, Keseberg, and the hot-tempered if alert Reed. Ill-advised by the guide Lansford Hastings, who was later to abandon them, they took the Hastings Cutoff which was to shorten the distance- but expose them to impassable mountain trails. Reed, in defense of a woman, killed a man, and Keseberg influenced the judgment to banish him from the party. With another man, Reed went on to reach Sutter's Fort and form a rescue party for the caravan which was by now hopelessly stranded in the snows- hunger-crazed to the point of cannibalism. A first rescue party brought out Margaret Reed and two of her children- and Reed returned to save the others- among them the Donner children- but Tamsen Donner chose to stay with her dying husband, and met death at the hands of the homicidal Keseberg... The high points here of human courage- and depravity- give this story its lasting excitement- letters and records fill in personal details of the odyssey- and Homer Croy's own enthusiasm warms these bleak pages of frontier history.