A precise, dispassionate, horrifying account of the Donner party's disastrous trek to California that will have readers counting their blessings. Inspired by a land speculator's highly misleading guidebook, the two large Donner families and several associates set out from Independence, Missouri, in May 1846, were trapped in the High Sierra by snowstorms in November, and after running out of food ate their dead (most of whom died of natural causes); only 48 of the 88 survived to cross the mountains. The episode has been thoroughly documented by contemporary reports and later research, but this book is the fullest treatment yet for younger readers. Written in a formal, just-the-facts tone, Lavender (Santa Fe Trail, 1995, not reviewed, etc.) lists names, dates, rough terrain and weather, mishaps, casualties, and decisions good and bad, making the ghoulish climax almost ordinary after the physical and psychological hardships of the journey. Sensation-seekers may be disappointed, but this book provides a vivid picture of the obstacles faced by the westward emigrants of the 19th century.