“Never take no cutoffs and hurry along as fast as you can”
–Virginia Reed, young surviving member of the Donner Party, regarding her experience
When most people think of the Donner Party, they think of the eating of human flesh to which some member resorted out of desperation. That is part of the story, but the whole story is fascinating from beginning to end. I have read several books about the Donner Party. Ordeal by Hunger gives an excellent overview: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/542429.Ordeal_by_Hunger Desperate Passage is a newer book and branches out in to other areas, such as a chapter detailing various times in history when humans have had to resort to eating dead companions to survive. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1132808.Desperate_Passage?from_search=true The two books together are excellent, since they highlight different parts of the journey.
Before they ever got to the mountains that stranded them in 1846 over the winter with the first snowfall, many adventures occurred which make the story of the Donner Party fascinating just as a tale of the pioneer journey regardless of its ending. The group was one of the last parties to leave Missouri, so they were already behind many of the other wagon trains. However, their true downfall occurred when they were duped by a charlatan, Lansford Hastings. Hastings wanted to make a name for himself by developing a shortcut west over the Wasatch Mountains. Because this path was new, the Donner Party found that they had to cut a path through the wild. Also, they were unprepared to travel a very dry stretch and ended up having to abandon much of their livestock and supplies, contributing to the later disaster. The “shortcut” ended up adding precious time to their journey, instead of making it faster. They only missed getting over the Sierra Nevada mountains before the first early snowfall by one day.
When the Uruguayan rugby team was stranded from a plane crash in the Andes in 1972, they also resorted eventually to eating human flesh. They were Catholic and were very concerned that this would be a sin. When they went to confess the sin after some of them were rescued, they were told by a priest that it would have been a sin if they had refused to keep themselves alive by this method since it was the only method available. It was not a sin to eat the dead flesh when there was nothing else to eat. They only ate fellow passengers who had died naturally. The rugby players also prayed the Rosary together every night, as did many of their mothers back in Uruguay. Their mothers credit the Rosary with their sons’ miraculous survival and rescue. The story of the role of the Rosary in the Andes rugby survivors is explained in Piers Paul Read’s book Alive, as well as portrayed in the movie by the same name. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/401514.Alive
Both of these stories are essentially about the human spirit and our ability to survive in even the worst situations. In both cases, stories are told about the will to survive and how giving up was a factor in the demise of some of the members of both parties. To me this is the more interesting part of both the story of the Donner Party and the Andes Crash Survivors.