An Evening with Michael Wallis

The Best Land Under Heaven Please join us Wednesday, June 28th at 7 p.m. for an evening with best-selling author Michael Wallis. Few incidents in Western history have had such a hold on the American imagination as the story of the doomed Donner Party. In Michael Wallis’s expansive and myth-exploding account, THE BEST LAND UNDER HEAVEN, grim legend gives way to dreams displaced. Michael Wallis, the best-selling author of Route 66 and Billy the Kid, has published eighteen books and won numerous honors and awards. He is a popular public speaker and a highly acclaimed voice actor. Like his best-selling biographies of Billy the Kid and Davy Crockett, THE BEST LAND UNDER HEAVEN taps into Wallis’s deep understanding of the frontier mindset that fueled westward expansion in the mid-nineteenth century. Most of us have a basic understanding of the ghoulish outcome of the Donner expedition: nearly ninety emigrants bound for California in 1846 were snowbound in the impassable Sierras, and half survived the brutal winter months only by eating the dead.

Yet, as Wallis argues, it’s a tale that is far more than cautionary—the underlying circumstances are a fascinating case study of the United States in the age of Manifest Destiny, and of the foot soldiers who led the way west. The party itself was a cross-section of America; though dominated by two families (the Donners and the Reeds), they represented the strata of wealth, age groups, education, and ethnicity drawn to a new life beyond the prairie. Many were escaping hardship, others chasing quick riches, and some simply inveterate adventurers.

Retracing their steps, Wallis gives one of the most detailed histories of the Donners and Reeds before they set foot from Illinois, a tale that unfolds against a fascinating portrait of Springfield in the 1840s (which housed another young dreamer, Abraham Lincoln). George Donner and his extensive brood come to life on the page, a family of farmers uprooted on several previous occasions and whose fortunes were spread thin after an economic panic swept the nation.

Culminating in that infamous impasse near Truckee Lake, California—since renamed for the Donners—Wallis gives a riveting account of the wrong turns, bad decisions, and reckless behavior that led to tragedy, and sensationalized the world. 

Event date: 
Wednesday, June 28, 2017 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm
Event address: 
121 California Avenue
Reno, NV 89509