Snow Mountain Passage is a powerful retelling of one of the USA's most dramatic pioneer stories--the ordeal of the Donner Party, with its cast of young and old risking all, its imprisoning snows, its rumors of cannibalism. James Houston takes us inside this central American myth in a compelling new way that only a novelist can achieve.
The people whose dreams, courage, terror, ingenuity, and fate we share are James Frazier Reed, one of the leaders of the Donner Party, and his wife and four children--in particular his eight-year-old daughter, Patty. From the moment we meet Reed--proud, headstrong, yet a devoted husband and father--traveling with his family in the "Palace Car," a huge, specially built covered wagon transporting the Reeds in grand style, the stage is set for trouble. And as they journey across the country, thrilling to new sights and new friends, coping with outbursts of conflict and constant danger, trouble comes. It comes in the fateful choice of a wrong route, which causes the group to arrive at the foot of the Sierra Nevada too late to cross into the promised land before the snows block the way. It comes in the sudden fight between Reed and a drover--a fight that exiles Reed from the others, sending him solo over the mountains ahead of the storms.
We follow Reed during the next five months as he travels around northern California, trying desperately to find means and men to rescue his family. And through the amazingly imagined "Trail Notes" of Patty Reed, who recollects late in life her experiences as a child, we also follow the main group, progressively stranded and starving on the Nevada side of the Sierras.
An extraordinary tale of pride and redemption. What happens--who dies, who survives, and why--is brilliantly, grippingly told.
Somewhere in Nebraska
They have been following the sandy borders of the Platte through level country that changes little from day to day, an undulating sea of grasses broken here and there by clumps of trees along the river. Jim Reed likes it best in late afternoon, the low sun giving texture to the land, giving each hump and ripple its shadow and its shape, while the river turns to gold, a broad molten corridor.
He likes being alone at this time of day, with the mare under him. He wears a wide-brim hat, a loose shirt of brown muslin, a kerchief knotted around his neck. His trousers are stuffed into high leather boots, and his rifle lies across the saddle. He has been scouting ahead, in search of game, and now, as he takes his time returning, his reverie is interrupted by the sight of another rider heading toward the wagons. As the man and horse draw nearer, Reed recognizes him and calls out.
The German is not going to stop, so Jim overtakes him....
If you liked Snow Mountain Passage, try these:
A masterful portrait of a tragic crucible in the settlement of the American heartland - the 'Children's Blizzard' of 1888.
A debut novel set in the Pacific Northwest of the 1820s and 1980s - two friendships separated by generations but bound together by a dark mystery.
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