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Air Date - 24th October 1978

TV Movie

Role – James Reed

Based on real life events, this Classics Illustrated version of The Donner-party crossing tells a tale of man’s struggle against the odds, the environment and himself.

In May of 1846 eighty-seven men, women and children set out from Fort Bridger heading west to California.  

Narrated by Robert Fuller, in the role of James Reed, Donner Pass – The Road To Survival opens with George Donner elected captain of the wagon train. As with any good movie or television show, the script calls for the obligatory bad guy.  Andrew Prine as Keyser,  provides us with a snivelling, conniving individual who thinks of no one but himself. While having doubts as to the wisdom of Keyser joining the wagon train, and the anticipated journey across the mountains, James Reed and his supporters choose to stick with George Donner’s decision to attempt a short cut through Hasting’s Cutoff over the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  

The eight day journey through the desert takes a heavy toll on the settlers, many families losing their livestock, wagons and most of their possessions. Supplies run low and two men – Will McKutcheon and Charlie Stanton – head to Sutter’s Fort to bring back much needed provisions.

Wrongly accused of murder after an altercation with a fellow traveller, James Reed is evicted from the wagon train and sent into the desert to find his own way, leaving his family to continue with the others.

The story branches off onto two paths at this point – the first following James as he doggedly treks through the desert to Sutter’s Fort.  And the second: tracking the wagon train and the ensuing risks which ultimately cause the settlers to become stranded for the winter in heavy snow.

While James eventually makes it to Sutter’s Fort he is given only minimal supplies and asked to join the fight against the Mexicans. He refuses and sets off with McKutcheon in search of his family.  Both men are forced back to Sutter’s Fort after James is injured in an avalanche. Once recovered, the only way he is able to convince Sutter and Freemont to give him aid is if he can eliminate General Pico.

Succeeding in defeating the Mexicans, James is given the help required to make the trip back to the Sierra Nevada summit.

The stranded pioneers build makeshift cabins to wait out the winter. When food runs dangerously low, seventeen people leave on snowshoes hoping to raise help for the families staying behind. Facing certain starvation, those remaining at the cabins and those travelling on foot resort to the only means of survival available to them... cannibalism.

The Donner Pass – The Road to Survival is a shocking and yet incredible story of human survival.

Robert’s portrayal of James Reed is both compelling and heart-wrenching. Grab your tissue box when James is farewelling his family after being banished from the Wagon Train.


Based on real life events, this Classics Illustrated version of The Donner-party crossing tells a tale of man’s struggle against the odds, the environment and himself.

In May of 1846 eighty-seven men, women and children set out from Fort Bridger heading west to California.  

Narrated by Robert Fuller, in the role of James Reed, Donner Pass – The Road To Survival opens with George Donner elected captain of the wagon train. As with any good movie or television show, the script calls for the obligatory bad guy.  Andrew Prine as Keyser,  provides us with a snivelling, conniving individual who thinks of no one but himself. While having doubts as to the wisdom of Keyser joining the wagon train, and the anticipated journey across the mountains, James Reed and his supporters choose to stick with George Donner’s decision to attempt a short cut through Hasting’s Cutoff over the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  

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