No chapter in the opening of the West holds more excitement or terror than the epic of the Donner Party. In seeing the fate of the pioneers through the ideas of Virginia Reed, a dreamy adventurous girl who set forth in a sumptuous wagon, from Springfield, Illinois, the reader experiences the exaggerated hopes, the human frailties, the desperation of isolation and early snows in the California mountains, and sees the effect on individual families of a continent's conquest. Virginia's stepfather, Mr. Reed, killed a man in self defense. The Donner party banished him without food --but Virginia and her brother slipped away to bring him aid. Then as starvation and mounting snowfall overtook the wagon train in the mountains, the banished Mr. Reed brought rescue for some of the travelers. He had gone ahead and returned with help. From letters of the Reeds, a real family, the reader appreciates the ordeal in which half the wayfarers perished. Veracity stamps every mile of this hellish journey whose ghastly final chapter included cannibalism.