Sarah Graves had high hopes as she began her trek across the American frontier with family and newly minted husband in 1846. They were following the promise of a wonderful life in California, then part of Mexico, a promise made to them by a man called Lansford Hastings. He was an entrepreneur and author of The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California, who had a vested interest in “whitening” the area so as to cause a soft land grab. Daniel James Brown’s book The Indifferent Stars Above beautifully paints a rich story of the family’s journey, but I was plagued by an overall sense of dread while reading even the happier and lighter moments. For you see, I know how this story ends. Sarah will see her husband die on this trip and get eaten by her fellow starving travellers in a snowy Nervada mountain pass. Hastings's untested California shortcut suggestion in his guide would cost the Donner-Reed party 39 lives, with many survivors, including children, having to eat the dead to live. Th...

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