Monday, November 30, 2009
I got my copy of Allan W. Eckert's Dark Journey: The Tragedy of the Donner Party in the mail today, and it's... bad. Really bad. I haven't even read the book yet, just the notes, and perused the text here and there, and I'm telling you, folks, it's a train wreck.
First, despite the publisher's flowery obfuscations, it's a novel: Eckert makes things up. Now, history can be dull, and of course one wants to liven it up, recreate what people did and said. But a what point does reasonable inference turn into sheer fabrication? Wherever you draw the line, Eckert is on the wrong side of it.
Second, the book is poorly edited. I did a double take at "Russsell," for instance, and don't get me started on the internal inconsistencies, the maps, or the index.
Third, it's full of errors. Small, annoying errors, whoppers, howlers, and outright falsehoods. One particularly choice example: According to Eckert, although John Snyder was buried at Gravelly Ford, he was killed at Iron Point, "40 miles east." First of all, why would anybody haul a corpse for three days just to bury it? Second, there's the minor matter of geography: Iron Point is 80 miles west of Gravelly Ford. And third, the primary sources state that Snyder was buried the day after he was killed. This is in a "rigorously accurate" history? Clio help us. And this is only the tiniest tip of the iceberg.
I expected to like this book, having heard only good things about Eckert's work, and am sorry to have to write this.
P.S. It's very nicely bound, though.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Some time ago a reader kindly sent me a link to On the Trail of Tragedy: Excavation of the Donner Party Site, a video about the 1994 excavation at Alder Creek, which you can watch for free online. Check it out!
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I checked the Jesse Stuart Foundation website yesterday and Allan Eckert's new Donner Party book, Dark Journey, is available for purchase here. 334 p., $25.00. Haven't read it yet, but hope to soon.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
It suddenly occurred to me that I coulda mentioned this a coupla months ago: in August I was awarded the Oregon-California Trails Association's Merrill J. Mattes Award for Excellence in Writing for my article "Survivor: Sarah Graves Fosdick," which was published in Overland Journal 26, no. 1 (Spring 2008). The award itself is a handsome engraved plaque on a walnut base and I have no idea what to do with it. Anyway, it's a thumping great honor and I was dumbfounded (and a bit teary) when they notified me. Thanks, OCTA, and everybody whose help and encouragement made it possible.