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"Unfortunate Emigrants":
Narratives of the Donner Party
Edited by Kristin Johnson

Utah State University Press, 1996
Certificate of Commendation, American Association for State and Local History, 1997

A collection of documents about the Donner Party, with biographical sketches of the authors and annotations. Includes works by J. Quinn Thornton, Lilburn W. Boggs, Mary Ann Graves, H. A. Wise, J. Ross Browne, Eliza W. Farnham, William C. Graves, F. H. McDougall, James F. Reed, William McCutchen, Jacob Wright Harlan, Virginia Reed Murphy, and Lovina Graves; also a roster of Donner Party members, maps, portraits of authors, bibliography, and index. ISBN 0-87421-208-1
     Reading this compendium of original, descriptive accounts is compelling, engaging and unforgettable. No Western American frontier history collection can be considered complete without this astonishing book.

Midwest Book Review

     [Johnson’s] new book on the Donner Party fills a void, and does so with considerable skill... The offerings all serve to add new insight to the 1846-47 tragedy in the Sierra Nevada, and all are valuable to students of California Trail history. But it is Johnson’s spare but precise annotation that makes this book. Her introduction sparkles with clear writing...


     Almost all of the primary and early secondary accounts of the Donner narrative have been reprinted, but they are often parts of larger works. Very few have received the contextual analysis or the annotation that Kristin Johnson supplies. Johnson brings the major sources together and corrects both facts and interpretations... Her Introduction, a critical bibliographical essay, is excellent. Equally fine are the brief introductions to each of the sources and the documentation in the footnotes. Johnson is scholarly and dispassionate, and her presentation is felicitous. The serious student of the Donner Party must read this book.

Illinois Historical Quarterly

     Scholars as well as casual readers of western history will welcome the publication of Unfortunate Emigrants: Narratives of the Donner Party...
     It is in the estimable annotations to the sources that the editor really shines. Johnson’s commentary identifies inconsistencies, provides crucial details often omitted by the sources, and places many of the significant events in a comprehensible context. Her thorough knowledge of the literature of the Donner Party is apparent throughout her commentary.
     Unfortunate Emigrants is a great read and will no doubt attract a large audience. Scholars can glean much from the author’s annotations, which reflect her comprehensive familiarity with the Donner sources. Johnson’s annotations provide meaningful guidance on the context and reliability of the sources included in the book. Readers with a deep interest in the subject of the Donner Party will undoubtedly find many sources of which they were previously unaware.

Nevada Historical Society Quarterly

     By revisiting early accounts of the Donner Party experience, Johnson provides an enlightening account of their history and an interesting view of the early public fascination with the disaster.

American Association for State and Local History


For additional information on the book see:

Utah State University Press
Consult the current catalog in the History section

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Revised: 31 Jan 2006

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