American Experience: Season 5, Episode 3

The Donner Party (28 Oct. 1992)

TV Episode  |   |  Documentary, History
Your rating:
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 -/10 X  
Ratings: 8.5/10 from 235 users  
Reviews: 5 user | 1 critic

Doomed attempt to get to California in 1846. More than just a riveting tale of death, endurance and survival. The Donner Party's nightmarish journey penetrated to the very heart of the ... See full summary »



0Check in

On Disc

at Amazon

Celebrate IMDb's 25th Anniversary with Photos We Love

IMDb turns 25 on October 17! To celebrate, we put together a gallery of some of our favorite movie, TV, and event photos from the last 25 years.

See the Photos We Love

User Lists

Related lists from IMDb users

a list of 326 titles
created 23 Jan 2013
a list of 639 titles
created 24 Jan 2013
a list of 209 titles
created 12 Jan 2014
a list of 344 titles
created 7 months ago
a list of 900 titles
created 2 months ago

Related Items

Search for "The Donner Party" on

Connect with IMDb

Share this Rating

Title: The Donner Party (28 Oct 1992)

The Donner Party (28 Oct 1992) on IMDb 8.5/10

Want to share IMDb's rating on your own site? Use the HTML below.

Take The Quiz!

Test your knowledge of American Experience.
« Previous Episode | 59 of 319 Episodes | Next Episode »




Episode credited cast:
David McCullough ...
Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Paul Roebling ...
George McKinstry (voice)


Doomed attempt to get to California in 1846. More than just a riveting tale of death, endurance and survival. The Donner Party's nightmarish journey penetrated to the very heart of the American Dream at a crucial phase of the nation's "manifest destiny. Touching some of the most powerful social, economic and political currents of the time, this extraordinary narrative remains one of the most compelling and enduring episodes to come out of the West. Written by Joshua Mueller

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis



Official Sites:




Release Date:

28 October 1992 (USA)  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

,  »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Children on the Hill
Composed and Performed by Harold Budd
Courtesy of Upala Music, Inc. and Warner Bros. Records
By Arrangement with Warner Special Products
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

Excellent documentary of the triumphs & horrors of history's most famous wagon train to California.
11 September 2000 | by (Warren, Arkansas) – See all my reviews

THE DONNER PARTY is an excellent, engrossing historical documentary about the famous (infamous?) Donner Party, who immigrated to California from Illinois in 1846-47. Ric Burns uses narration by David McCollough, comments by historians, still photos from the period & of individuals, diary excerpts read by noted actors, spectacular film of areas travelled by the Donner Party, and moving music that fits the storyline. As a high school history teacher (I've shown this film each year for the past 7 years) I appreciate Burns'information about Manifest Destiny & the pioneer spirits' need to move westward. Details about the conditions endured by the Party aid in understanding the experience of all those who travelled west on wagon trains (though the Donners et al do have their own unique experiences).

The situation of those trapped in the snowy Sierra Nevada during the winter of 1846-47 does not need "gruesome" exaggerations to keep a captive audience; the testimony of survivors more than adequately tell the horrendous story. I have to admit, some 16 & 17-year-olds find parts of the 90 min. film a bit slow. But they certainly express interest in the hardships endured, the choices that must be made to survive or die, and the determination to endure insurmountable hardships by so many pioneers. I also find Burns' inclusion of what happened to some survivors after their rescue to be quite interesting. I can't say this is real "pleasure-viewing" material, but it is certainly informative & extremely well-made.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
This years intro... ag-wktn
When will we see a film about that remarkable hero, Ida B Wells? Swing-lo
When are they going to make a movie on this? bette1981
What happened to the 'The?' trescia-1
The Satellite Sky craviola880
JFK powersroc
Discuss The Donner Party (1992) on the IMDb message boards »

Contribute to This Page

Create a character page for: