“My father, with tears in his eyes, tried to smile as one friend after another grasped his hand in a last farewell. Civilian Casualties 3. We use cookies. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. The Donner Camp has been the site of recent archeological excavations. Immediately messages were dispatched to neighboring settlements as area residents rallied to save the rest of the Donner Party. Ironically, on the very day that the Illinois party headed west from Springfield, Lansford Hastings prepared to head east from California, to see what the shortcut he had written about was really like. Reed and another rescuer, Hiram Miller, took three of the refugees with them hoping to find food they had stored on the way up. Encountering few problems along the trail, the pioneers reached Fort Laramie just one week behind schedule on June 27, 1846. Then, in January 1848, gold was discovered in at John Sutter’s Mill in Coloma and gold-hungry travelers began to rush out West once again. The Donner Party was a group of American settlers heading to California who became stranded in heavy snows in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1846. I can proudly boast that we have a piece of history; the Donor-Reed party passed through and camped on our property. Along the entire journey, others would join the group until its size numbered 87. Fort Laramie, Wyoming painting by Alfred Jacob Miller. If you continue to use this site we will assume that you are happy with it. After dogs and cowhides had been devoured, many deaths occurred, and the survivors were forced to resort to cannibalism of the dead bodies. Over the next four months, the remaining men, women, and children would huddle together in cabins, makeshift lean-tos, and tents. The note indicated that Hastings had left with another group and that later travelers should follow and catch up. The caravan camped for five days 50 miles from the summit, resting their oxen for the final push. On August 11th, the wagon train began the arduous journey through the Wasatch Mountains, clearing trees and other obstructions along the new path of their journey. [1] The band consisted of Melanie Clarin on drums and accordion, Sam Coomes on guitar, violin, and banjo, and Reinhold Johnson on bass. The dates and facts that followed were interesting and made me feel as though I was traveling with the Donor-Reed party. It was here that the train would experience its first death when Sarah Keyes died and was buried next to the river. Five of the emigrants died before reaching the mountain camps, 34 at the camps or on the mountains while attempting to cross, and one just after reaching the settlements. Never take no cutofs and hury along as fast as you can.” The discovery of gold in California in 1848 would turn the flow of migrants into a virtual flood, and the legacy of the Donner party would become less a cautionary tale and more a grim historical footnote in the story of the great westward movement. On February 5, the first relief party of seven men left Johnson’s ranch, and the second, headed by James Reed, left two days later. On December 15, Balis Williams died of malnutrition and the group realized that something had to be done before they all died. Directed by Ric Burns. Taking eight oxen to pull the luxurious wagon, Reed’s 12-year-old daughter Virginia dubbed it “The Pioneer Palace Car.”. Reed also hoped that his wife, Margaret, who suffered from terrible headaches, might improve in the coastal climate. The Donner Party families traveled 2,000 miles (3,218 kilometers) west in a wagon train in 1846, mostly from Missouri and Illinois, to claim free land in California before the discovery of gold in what was then the Mexican Territory. Twelve of the emigrants were dead and of the forty-eight remaining, many had gone crazy or were barely clinging to life. The surviving members had differing viewpoints, biases and recollections so what actually happened was never extremely clear. Some of the men tried to hunt with little success. When it cleared, Isaac Donner had died and most of the refugees were too weak to travel. Having traveled an extra 125 miles through strenuous mountain terrain and dry desert, the disillusioned party’s resentment of Hastings, and ultimately, Reed, was increased tremendously. Antonio, Patrick Dolan, Franklin Graves, and Lemuel Murphy soon died and in desperation, the others resorted to cannibalism. The originator of this group was a man named James Frasier Reed, an Illinois businessman, eager to build a greater fortune in the rich land of California. Newspapers printed letters and diaries and accused the travelers of bad conduct, cannibalism, and even murder. All the other migrants of 1846 had completed their journey to California, and the Donner party was racing the weather to clear the passes in the Sierra Nevada. Continuing to encounter multiple obstacles, on October 16th, they reached the gateway to the Sierra Nevada on the Truckee River (present-day Reno) almost completely depleted of food supplies. © Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated April 2020. Two men who had joined the party at the lake also died. The Donner party stranded in the Sierra Nevada Range, 1847. The party in question was the Donner-Reed party, known for taking an unconfirmed shortcut from an untrustworthy source. The initial group included 32 men, women and children. On July 31 the Donner party entered Hastings Cutoff, which would take the group south of the Great Salt Lake in what is now Utah. Mama was overcome with grief. During their first week in the Cutoff, the Donner party made good progress. Green Abyss 7. 1 talking about this. The drivers cracked their whips. Your email address will not be published. Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students. The Donner Party: A terrifying tale of modern cannibalism First hearing the story of the Donner Party, it’s natural to think it’s some kind of tribute to Jeffery Dahmer by someone who can’t spell Dahmer. The property clearly depicts the hardship these pioneers endured. In reality, Hastings Cutoff was 125 miles (200 km) longer than the established trail, which ran north of the Great Salt Lake, and it would take the pioneers through some of the most inhospitable country in the entire Great Basin. It is a story of American families Although they were warned partway through the trip not to go that way, I still put the blame on him for lying about it in the first place. The next day, they arrived at the lake camp to find that both of their sons had died. Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login). On October 31 the weary migrants approached what is now Donner Pass across the Sierra Nevada and found their progress blocked by deepening snow. Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. At Donner Lake, two more attempts were made to get over the pass in twenty feet of snow, until they finally realized they were snowbound for the winter. The Donner Party was a San Francisco-based indie rock band, performing between 1986-1989. I don’t believe any of us knows what we are capable of doing if put in the same situation and circumstances? As the elevation increased, the rain turned to snow and twelve miles from the summit the pair could go no further. Satisfied, the emigrants rested for a few days at the fort, making repairs to their wagons and preparing for the rest of what they thought would be a seven-week journey. Malnutrition and the two Indians who were traveling ahead made it as far as the snow the! Survived lost toes to frostbite and Samuel Shoemaker, as well as a friend named John Denton of.! Paiute warriors killed several of the Donner party that the train split, Donner... William Foster, but he was instead banished from the summit, resting oxen! This site we will assume that you are agreeing to news, offers and... And California Trails to arrive at Sutter ’ s Lake, finding grisly evidence of.. Francisco-Based indie rock band, performing between 1986-1989 alive among the party lost dozens of in. A departure were dashed encountering few problems along the trail, it was to... 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