Snow Mountain Passage
Based on the Donner Party tragedy of 1846-47, Snow Mountain Passage tells of American emigration to California in the mid-1800s. Through “The Trail Notes of Patty Reed,” a retrospective journal, and the third person narrative of the experiences of her father Jim Reed, James D. Houston enables us to experience with them the most tragic year of their lives.
Eight-year-old Patty Reed left Springfield, Illinois with her parents and a wagon train under the leadership of George Donner in the spring of 1846. Her intelligent, articulate father had spent considerable time preparing for the journey, and his opinions were highly regarded. He tragically recommended an unproven “short-cut” that took the Donner Party through the great salt basin. Instead of saving time, the route caused continual delays and ultimately many lives.
Good humor in the wagon train turned to irritability and resentment, much of it directed at Reed. When Reed defended himself against a vicious beating, killing his attacker, he was banished from the group. More dead than alive, Reed made it to California before it began snowing in the Sierra Nevada; he did not yet know that he was the luckiest one in the group. Of the original 87 in the Donner Party, only 48 survived.
Houston’s compelling novel tells an incredible tale of human suffering and survival. It is also a tale immersed in horrible and tragic images and not for the faint of heart.