Friday 31 July 1846: Fort Bridger, Wyoming

You are an immigrant travelling along the Oregon Trail to California, joining the thousands of settlers who are crossing America to the rich fertile lands of Oregon and California. Three months of journeying alone finds you in Fort Bridger, the last outpost on the Oregon Trail until you come to California. An explorer named Lansford Hastings recommends that settlers travelling to California leave the Oregon Trail here and follow a route known as Hasting’s Cut-Off, a shortcut across the Salt Lake Desert and Sierra Nevada Mountains that will save hundreds of miles of travelling.

Jim Bridger, a legendary explorer and owner of the trading post Fort Bridger, also recommends the route to the last party of settlers to arrive before you: a group of eighty-seven people led by two brothers called George and Jacob Donner. Hastings left Fort Bridger a week ago, escorting another party through Hastings Cut-Off and though you are disappointed to have missed him you decide to join the Donner Party who are also taking the route.

It will prove to be the worst decision of your life.

On the last day of July the Donner Party leaves Fort Bridger and you leave with them, driving your wagon piled high with provisions. You travel over the hills and valleys of the Wasatch Mountains until after a week a letter is discovered tied to a sage bush at the mouth of a canyon. It is from Hastings and advises against going down the canyon as it is rocky and might damage the wagons. He suggests that any immigrants following should send some people on fast horses to catch up with him so he can give specific directions about the route ahead.

Three men: James Reed (a man with a strong personality and one of the most respected members of the party), Charles Stanton (Another strong personality in the party who is travelling to California on his own initiative) and William Pike (An engineer and one of the cleverest men in the group) are chosen to perform the dangerous task of travelling across unfamiliar country to try and catch up with Hastings. You can either volunteer to accompany them or remain camped with the Donner Party.

What do you do?