[The fiddler plays "Moon's Halo"]

† November 5, 1846

The funny thing about hell is that it seldom announces its presence. Hell is sly. What I shall now endeavor to describe is not a scene of total delusion, but rather its perfectly sane antecedent: the assumption that all things must pass and that, given the right amount of fortitude, resourcefulness, and will, a reasonable solution will soon present itself.

Things were sort of, well, normal, for a time: one family found a cabin that had been built many winters prior, another simply built their own, someone else added on with a lean-to, but a proper one, and the Donners themselves were stuck a little ways back on Alder Creek—George, the pater familias, had injured his hand—so they abided in more improvised, but still essentially dry and warm, shelters.

Patrick Breen, Irishman he was, naturally referred to these dwellings as "shantys" in a diary he soon began to keep. After being repelled by the season's first snow—only one storm, after all!—escape plans were more generally assumed than they were specifically made.

Over ten years later, in 1858, I moved my family to Yuma; it was the first time in 15 years that I had lived outside of California. At that time, I, too, settled into a sort of delusion—a mirage, if you will.

[The fiddler starts to play "Loop #10: Mystery, Babylon."]

The land south of the Gila River had been sold to the United States in the Gadsden Purchase of 1845. Senator Benjamin Wade, then representing my home state, said of the place: "Just like hell, all it lacks is water and good society."

Well, Senator Wade, I endeavored to solve one of those problems! For the other, I recommend the services of an engineer.

California! California, I had left you! California I had been perfectly faithful all of those years and what had you given me? In Yuma, I was once again appointed judge and simultaneously served as Postmaster General, fancy that—presented me a certain desert flower...