Snow Mountain Passage
James D. Houston
James D. Houston (1933–2009) was the author of eight novels and numerous works of nonfiction. He has been honored by organizations including the Library of Congress and the Western Literature Association, and he has received two prestigious American Book Awards. Among his most popular works is Farewell to Manzanar, which he co-wrote with his wife, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston.
The following excerpt is from the novel Snow Mountain Passage (2001), which tells the story of the Donner Party’s tragic trip from Springfield, Illinois, to California. This selection is told from the perspective of an elderly Patty Reed, who was a child in 1846, when more than forty of the Donner Party’s members starved to death near present-day Truckee, California, and a few, cold and hungry, resorted to cannibalism. Patty’s father, James, had been banished from the party and arrived in California before the snows engulfed the straggling remnants of the wagon train high in the Sierra Nevada, and his struggle to rescue his young family became one of the most poignant elements of the entire episode. Patty herself became forever linked with the event as a symbol of hope and the loss of innocence, and her doll remains on exhibit at Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, California.
Read by Barbara Vineyard, President of the Sierra College Board of Trustees