Book Review

Sex and Death on the Western Emigrant Trail: The Biology of Three American Tragedies
October 2, 2019
Book Review
Sex and Death on the Western Emigrant Trail: The Biology of Three American Tragedies
Reviewer Melvin L. Bashore Author Donald K. Grayson

This daily feature is an introduction to a full book review by Melvin L. Balshore. To read the full text of this review, follow the link below.

Who would be more likely to survive in a wilderness setting, beset by starvation and extreme cold? Women or men? Single individuals or families? Would age make a difference? In Sex and Death on the Western Emigrant Trail, Donald Grayson looks at who died and who lived in three mid-nineteenth-century emigrant groups. An emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Washington, Grayson began looking at patterns of death in the Donner Party, publishing his findings in 1990 and 1993. Curious if those same patterns of death were manifest in another emigrant group, Grayson began looking at the 1856 Willie handcart company. Grayson acknowledges my help with his research at the Church Historical Department in the mid-1990s, and he published his findings about mortality in the Willie handcart company in the Journal of Anthropological Research in 1996.

In Sex and Death on the Western Emigrant Trail, Grayson re-examines his earlier analyses, adds new ones, and in some instances, reaches different conclusions than his earlier studies. He also looks at death in the Martin handcart company, an entirely new analysis for him. While his earlier publications were written in technical form, in this book, the statistical analyses are woven into the fabric of the story of the tragic disasters. This makes Sex and Death suitably readable for anyone curious about the differences in death and survivorship among groups entrapped in situations like those faced by the unfortunate members of the Donner Party and Willie and Martin handcart companies.