Sunday, February 3, 2013

Movie Review: ***^The American Experience: The Donner Party

I checked this movie out from Manteca Library.  It was made in 1992. It is a Ric Burns film and has that feel and tone. The movie tells the very bleak story of the Donner Party.  The made a very crucial decision to go south with a new untried route (Hastings Cutoff), which they hoped would be a shortcut, but turned out to be a long-cut over more serious terrain.  Because it was untried they had to chop a trail through Emigration Canyon.  Then the salt flats were not kind to them as wagons became stuck in the mud.  They arrived at the Sierra late in the year.  They started up the summit, but were caught by snow storm before they could reach the top.  Stuck in the snow, the movie explains why help was so slow in coming to them.  It also talks extensively about cannibalism, and that almost all the families but one engaged in this.  In one case, a couple Indian guides were murdered and eaten.  In the end, 41 of the immigrants perished.  46 survived.

This movie has a very professional feel.  It uses dramatic readings of journals, letters and histories.  It used modern filming of the area, as well as pictures of the places they passed.  It tells its story well.  However I wish it hadn't focused so much on cannibalism.

Archeological data point to a lesser degree of consumption of human flesh than first thought.  However the family dogs were eaten.
There was cannibalism among the "forlorn hope," a group that walked out seeking help.  This group also included the Native Americans who were murdered.

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