The third Donner Party-themed novel by Frankye Craig of Reno has been published. Fateful Journey follows Daughters of Destiny (2007) and The Fateful Journey of Tamsen Donner (2006). Tamsen Donner is now out of print, but the second and third of the series are for sale at the Nevada Historical Society bookshop and online at www.donnerpartyhistory.com.
What made you write about the Donner Party?
I was hired by California State Parks, their interpretive association, to organize the Donner Party sesquicentennial in 1996, and in order to do that, I needed to learn a little bit about it. And I met all of the current historians and writers and a lot of descendents, and I got hooked on the story. So I started doing more research, and I started putting on Donner Party events—three charter bus company tours over the years, taking people on the trail in the footsteps of the Donner Party. So that’s about 13 years. … I got hooked. I got hooked on the story. It’s such a deep story. It’s a wonderful story—the people, the people. The people were all kinds, heroic, cowardly, a couple of them were killers, murderers. But it’s the heroism, mostly.
Some people would also say foolhardy.
Foolhardy, no. Very logical—they planned ahead, they had the best equipment, they had the best wagons, they had all the food they needed for the journey, and they had some bad luck.
Couldn’t they have lingered in the Truckee Meadows and wintered over?
There was nothing here for them, and they had no idea when they were here that they wouldn’t just go right over the mountains and be in California.
What are the kinds of reactions you get from people?
Wonderful reactions. My books are historical fiction, and I’ve combined that with the true history so that my books enable the reader to get inside the people, to get in their heads, to travel along with them, and they discuss their decisions. So when you’re along with them you understand more about their thinking, and you’ll understand that they weren’t foolish, they weren’t dumb.
What made you approach it through fiction instead of non-fiction?
Well, there’s a lot of non-fiction history on the Donner Party. And also, I wanted a sympathetic approach. I wanted to explain the people, and I think that’s what I’ve accomplished.
Do you ever get tired of cannibalism jokes?
[Laughs] I get them all the time. I have three so far today. Usually it’s asking me, ‘Is this the cookbook?” or jokes like that. I just laugh. Some of them are kind of funny.
Is there going to be a fourth book?
Not a Donner Party book. I think I’ve covered it.
Are you going to write about something else?
Yes, I’m writing one now with a background of Texas history, which is a lot harder for me, because I didn’t already have the history down pat, you know.
What’s your interest there?
I just got interested in it. I made a trip to Texas a couple years ago, and I visited the [Texas] Ranger museum in Waco, Texas. I was looking up my great-grandfather who I’d heard was a Texas Ranger, and he was. And the museum was quite stimulating and interesting and just kind of … Hey, this might be something for me to work on.