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In the long ordeal of their journey, they had survived accidents, misjudgments, inexperience, and disease. They had battled each other and helped each other. They had buried some comrades and abandoned another. They had hacked their way over trackless mountains and willed their way across murderous deserts. They had listened to the blandishments of a huckster promoting a shortcut that did not exist. Most important of all, they had fallen behind their fellow emigrants. That was the one unpardonable sin of the whole great venture, and now their penance was upon them (Rarick, 1).
One of the more ironic conundrums of history is the manner in which the Donner experience has been told, retold, and elaborated on so much that it has become an archetype of frontier mythology. The story has been adapted to movies, television, books, novels, plays, documentaries, and even a Gary Larson cartoon. Varyingly, the survivors have been lauded and condemned for the decisions that were made, so much so that there had been little left of a more balanced account of the saga until recently[footnoteRef:1]. [1: See for instance: Hardesty, D. The Archeology of the Donner Party. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 1997; King, J. Winter of Entrapment: A New Look at the Donner Party. New York: PD Meany, 1992; Stewart, G. Ordeal by Hunger: The Story of the Donner Party. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1936 and 1988; American Experience -- The Donner Party. PBS, 2007, Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/donner/; Trial of Tragedy: The Excavation of the Donner Party Site. Internet Archive FedFlix. 2004, Retrieved from: http://archive.org/details/gov.ntis.ava19387vnb1; and last but not least, "Looks Like the Donner Party Started Without Us," 1990 Far Side Cartoon by Gary Larson, Retrieved from: http://seabendy.blogspot.com/2008_04_01_archive.html]
Over the past two decades, however, research on the Donner Experience has shifted to a socio-cultural historiography and archaeological bent. The result has been works like Desperate Passage, in which journalist Ethan Rarick turns from sensationalism and a focus on cannibalism to a story about the tragedy of humanity and the hopes and dreams of a party of eager, but naive, pioneer explorers. Indeed, Rarick does not really focus on the Donners, but finds the epitome of the travels in one James Reed,
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