The Donner Party

Members of the Donner Party

Who were they?

The Donner Party was a group of a group of American California bound settlers that had gotten caught up in the rush to California. At the begining at the journey the party consisted of 87 pioneers. Of the 87 men, women and children in the Donner Party, 46 survived. Two thirds of the women and children lived, but only one third of the men.

Where did they go?

The Donner Party Route
The Donner Party Route

In May 1846 nine covered wagons started their journey from Springfield, Illinois, to Independence, Missouri, headed towards the west. Beyond Independence no one knew what they were going to find.

Continuing their journey, they arrived at Fort Laramie, in late June, with mountain man James Clyman. James Reed was urged by Clyman that they take the "old route". Disregarding Clyman's advice, Reed made the fateful decision to take Hastings Cutoff.

Half of the party wanted to take the "old route" while the other half was willing to follow Reed in his decision. It was at Little Sandy River that they parted ways. A bulk of the people turned right, towards the familiar route, while only 20 wagons turned left, toward Fort Bridger and the entrance to
the Hastings Cutoff.

Around August 30th, the 87 members of the Donner Party set forth on their dangerous journey across the Great Slat Lake Dessert. It was there that they encountered conditions that they had never even began to imagine. During the day, sering heats that boiled the sand beneath their feet, and swallowed their wagons, and by night there was freezing winds that blew sand, suffocating their oxen. Five days later they finally escaped the The Great Salt Dessert filled with anguish and dismay.

By September, all the emigrants of 1846 had arrived to safety at Sutter's Fort, in California. Everyone, except the Donner Party. On late October, the newly arrived emigrants were shocked to find James Reed crawling out of the wilderness to tell them the horrible story of his fellow travelers. John Sutter gave Reed horses and supplies to bring back to his fellow travelers and family, but four months of bad weather forced him to abandon his hopes of rescuing them.

What was so important?

On their journey to California, the Donnexternal image 300px-Donner_Pass_kingp053.jpger Party chose a "shortcut" through Utah that held them up for a month. By the time they reached the Sierra it was late November and snow was already beginning to fall. When a blizzard stopped them just shy of reaching the Summit, they quickly made shelters of wood and hides. Several times they tried to make the pass, although everytime they failed. Finally, fifteen men and women set off on hand created snowshoes to bring help. Most of them starved to death , and their fellow friends and family ate their bodies to survive. The campers on the crest of the Sierra also had to eat the bodies of the dead to survive. One man finally reached a settlement in California. Heavy snow made rescue efforts impossible. When the last of the Donner party was finally rescued and brought down from the summit in April, forty were dead. The horrible story was sensationalized in The San Fransisco Press, and from there, has passed into America's history.

by Alyssa Garrett

For More Information, Visit:
Back to Homepage