In June 1846, George and Jacob Donner and James Frazier Reed led their families west out of Springfield, Illinois, and headed for the “Promised Land” in California, two thousand miles away. But when family leaders made the fateful decision to take an untried short cut to beat the coming winter, only half of them would come out alive. What began as a trek to the western paradise became a terrifying tale of misery, death, madness and cannibalism. But there was also extraordinary bravery, as survivors made their way to California, after enduring the worst winter ever recorded in the High Sierras. Watch “The Donner Party” Monday, February 1, 2010 on PBS.
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Donner Party Preview