22 February 2010

Donner Party Survivors and Descendants

I thought just about everyone had heard the story of the Donner Party but was surprised to find somebody who hadn't. So I will summarize for those who have not. The Donner Party set out west in the 1840's from Illinois. Led by Capt. George Donner, Jacob Donner and James F. Reed the original group set out with 33 people in 9 covered wagons consisting of family and hired hands. Frances Donner (grave in the picture) was among those in the party and the daughter of George Donner. In 1846 the original Donner Party landed in a place called Little Sandy River with another group of emigrants traveling to California via wagon and horses. It was here the two groups decided to take different routes. One stayed on the California Trail that they had been following and the others became part of the Donner Party and decided to take the Hastings Trail which they thought would get them to California faster. When they reached the Sierra Mountains in October a snowstorm blocked their way over what is now known as Donner Pass. Running low on supplies the emigrants had to begin slaughtering their oxen but they could see that it was not enough. So fifteen (10 men and 5 women) set out for Sutter's Fort 100 miles away. When one leader couldn't go on another would take his place and soon they became lost and ran out of food. The survivors then had to resort to cannibalism to survive. By the time they reached safety only 2 men and all 5 women had survived. Rescue parties where then formed and sent back in waves forcing some of the rest to also resort to cannibalism .

The surviving Donners went on to raise families and many of them moved to Northern California. Here you see descendants of Jacob Donner (Georges' Brother). Frances above went on to raise six children with her husband William R. Wilder.

Today many people travel from where I live to Lake Tahoe on trips to the snow. On our way there we can all drive over Donner Pass in our cars. And I don't think a time goes by that the Donner conversation doesn't come up. We all look around in the car and think to ourselves..."If something happens who would I eat first?" It's a sick thing to think about I know. But the Donner story reminds us of what lengths people will go to in order to survive...

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