In summer, Donner Lake hums with the sound of campers and holidaymakers. Eliza Donner was just three years old when the Sierras orphaned her. At 13 years old, Mary Murphy became an orphan after her parents perished at the lakeside in that snowy Sierra Nevada pass. Palmer says that cadaver dogs trained to detect the presence of human bodies have reacted to it in a way that leaves almost no doubt. “The only conclusion that we can reach is that the cabin that had the mass grave was the Breen family cabin, located where the monument is standing right now,” says Palmer. Last survivor of the Donner Party: 29 April 1847 James Stephens Brown: 25 March 1902 (aged 73) Last witness to the discovery of Gold at Sutter's Mill: 28 January 1848 Ulysses S. Grant: 23 July 1885 (aged 63) Last President of the United States to have served in the Mexican–American War: 3 February 1848 William Fallon. “It's a tomb, and should be respected as such.”. Marysville, just outside Yuba City, is named after one of the Donner Party survivors, Mary Murphy. “Evidently, it was written without malice, but in ignorance, and by some warmly clad, well nourished person, who did not know the humanizing effect of suffering and sorrow,” she wrote. There were “insane restrictions put on our tribal communities that were meant to suffocate our life ways,” Brown says. “Their flesh had been either wasted by famine or evaporated by exposure to dry atmosphere, and presented the appearance of mummies.”, Bryant and the other soldiers were looking at what remained of the Donner Party: evidence of sheer desperation, and what it looks like when human bodies are stripped for food. Out of the 45 survivors, 32 were children. William Henry Eddy (30), husband of Eleanor Eddy, survivor of the Forlorn Hope Party, later assisted in the Third Relief, S. He says many Americans still often act like manifest destiny is their creed: “that there is this God-given and inherently given right that American citizens have to colonize a place because, in their view, it is making it better,” he says. The story spooked would-be emigrants to the state, making officials wish “they could just wipe the slate clean.”. A group of questing “pioneers” in search of the California dream, cruelly denied — but fate couldn’t stop some of them from prevailing. The issue of cannibalism is a sensitive one, but also a central part of the Donner Party story. After James Reed stabbed and killed a fellow Donner Party member, the group banished him and he managed to make it through Donner Pass before the snows trapped his family and the rest of the pioneers. The other survivors, who had all watched at least one family member die in the Sierras, scattered more quietly around Northern California — from Petaluma and Sonoma to Sebastopol and Tomales Bay. What Happened To The Youngest Survivors Of The Donner Party. Of the nearly 90 members who left Illinois, only around 45 made it to California. Out of the 45 survivors, 32 were children. She was born before the railroads, but lived to see the First World War, and died in 1922 just before her 80th birthday. That makes the monument “more than just a testament,” Palmer says. As Greg Palmer says, it wasn’t even seen as a crime. A lot of the public outcry was directed at the final man to leave Donner Lake: Lewis Keseberg. 22 February 1847, the 1st Relief Party departs with 23 Donner Party survivors enroute to Johnson’s Ranch. After their rescue, the Donner Party survivors became famous and then infamous. The California Star cast the Donner Party as terrifying ghouls, so hooked on the taste of humans that they’d been somehow transformed by it into cannibalistic monsters: “So changed had the emigrants become that when the rescuing party arrived with food, some of them cast it aside, and seemed to prefer the putrid human flesh that still remained.”. But in 1878, a historian and newspaper editor in Truckee named Charles McGlashan had a chance encounter with a Donner Party survivor. She chose to believe him — and if Keseberg was lying, then he held on to his secrets for another 16 years until his death, age 81, penniless in Sacramento. “But they did not find evidence of a mass grave.”. Genevieve Carlton is a freelance writer with a Ph.D in history. Many of the survivors never even spoke about that winter with their own families, says Greg Palmer. Dahlton Brown is Executive Director for the Wilton Rancheria tribe in Elk Grove, outside Sacramento. And so the shameful stigma of it pervaded most of the members.”, When you remember that first newspaper story in the California Star, who could blame them? They were taking a truly shameful part of the state’s history and erasing it from human sight. The first rescue party left Sutter's Fort on Jan. 31 and found the survivors at Donner Lake on Feb. 18, 1847. The tragic story has been pieced together from diaries and interviews of party members and told and retold, with many different interpretations over the years. But rumors swirled that Keseberg had murdered her in order to eat her. Here’s What Happened To The Surviving Members Of The Donner Party. A journalist named C.F. One of the survivors of the incident who would be accused of the most blatant cases of cannibalism was Louis Keseberg. In April 1846, 10 families and a collection of single men set out on a westward journey from Illinois through the Great Plains. But the meeting was enough to get Charles McGlashan instantly obsessed with this local, infamous history. Greg Palmer says they’ve excavated various parts of the park looking for the burial site: “They found rifle balls, jewelry, coins, buttons, various fragments of broken china and whatnot,” he says. Knowledge that the Indigenous people who already lived here absolutely prized. Yet it’s also seen by many as kind of an American tragedy. The Expedition of the Donner Party and Its Tragic Fate, this gallery of infamous frontiersmen in full color. This new California demanded it. The overland traffic of settlers in 1847 and 1848 dropped sharply, says Greg Palmer “because of what happened.”. As soldiers were burning the Donner Party’s dead up at Donner Lake, their family members who’d made it out alive were safe and warm miles away in the west. She’d been just one year old when her family fought for their lives up at Donner Lake. “Near the principal lake cabin I saw two bodies entire, except the abdomens had been cut open and entrails extracted,” Bryant wrote. Foster was one of the survivors. In the morning the relief party was to start back to the settlements. Of the In 1846, The Reed and Donner families along with many others set off from Illinois to embark on a new life in California. Her father was Captain George Donner, the leader of the infamous Donner Party which was trapped in the heavy snows at what is now called Donner Pass, near Tahoe, California. Eddy was to carry Georgia Donner; Thompson, Frances Donner; Miller, Eliza Donner; and Foster was to carry Simon Murphy. What he later wrote about that day was stomach-churning. An exact accounting of the Donner Party is made difficult by deciding exactly when the Donner Party actually formed. “If I could forget the tragedy, perhaps I would know how to cry again.”. This massive statue was erected in the warm sun of summer in 1918. In her book “The Expedition of the Donner Party and its Tragic Fate” she detailed how for years afterward, people came up to her and quoted that newspaper story. In the 1870s, an author researching the scandal found Keseberg living in destitution and dismay. “A more appalling spectacle I never witnessed.”, Bryant reported how that military party scraped all the remains they could find up from the forest floor, dug a hole in the floor of one of the cabins, and set fire to the whole thing: “With everything surrounding them connected with the horrible and melancholy tragedy, consumed.”. Survivor of the infamous Donner Party. Lawrence & Houseworth/Library of CongressStumps cut by members of the Donner Party show how deep the snow had gotten. Horrible, horrible!”. hen the snow finally melted in spring of 1847, the grisly evidence of the Donner Party's ordeal — the things that had been buried under feet of snow at Donner Lake — were revealed in full. In winter, when the snow shrouds everything, it’s much more silent. And thirteen years after that, a woman named Isabel Breen died in the South Bay, in 1935. If you’re imagining the remaining members of the Donner Party might have wanted to stick together, think again, says Greg Palmer. From almost the moment he came down from the mountain, Keseberg was a marked man. In March 1847 when the third rescue team reached Donner Lake, rescuers discovered that German immigrant Lewis Keseberg, who’d been traveling with his own family, had eaten two children. The public seized on what they’d read and if anything, remembered it as even worse. After recuperating at Sutter’s Fort, the Breens quietly moved south to San Juan Bautista, outside Gilroy. In 1847, she wrote, according to The Indifferent Stars Above: “I hope I shall not live long for I am tired of this troublesome world and I want to go to my mother.”. In the spring of 1847, the last rescue party finally reached the desperate remains of the Donner Party. What’s more, Foster had chosen to join the third rescue party, to voluntarily return to Donner Lake to bring more people to safety. T. H. O’Sullivan/United States Geological Survey. Interviews Blood, music, and cardboard–we interview American Murder Song on the Donner Party Boardgame ... Song is releasing the Donner Party Board Game, an adventure set in the frozen hell of frontier California where the survivors must make their way to Sacramento or die trying. “I guess you could call it the code of silence, remembering that this is the Victorian era … speaking of anything that's very personal, particularly something as taboo as eating the flesh of people was just not done. In January, 1848, just nine months after final survivor Lewis Keseberg was dragged off the mountain, gold was discovered in California. A lot of what was published in the California Star is undoubtedly sensationalized, or just flat-out wrong. These limitations were meant to “rob our communities and land, to make way for these miners and for these folks looking to make their riches.”, California had a new image, a new way of being. Donner Lake today. This is Part Two of the Bay Curious series on the Donner Party. Once the first survivors had escaped and brought the terrible news to California, public interest in the Donner Party saga soared. There's this idea that ‘if I gotta step on a few necks to survive, then I'll do it.'”. It wasn’t until 1911 that she felt able to write her memoir, and to talk publicly about what she remembered of the disaster, but also about her life as a Donner Party survivor. At Sutter’s Fort in California, Reed raised money for a rescue expedition, which he helped lead. History of the Donner Party January 5, 2015 JAG Books , History , Independent Press Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 Page 8 Page 9 Page 10 Page 11 Page 12 Page 13 Page 14 Page 15 Page 16 Page 17 Page 18 Page 19 Page 20 Page 21 Page 22 … Donner and her surviving sisters raised each other in the San Francisco Bay Area until 1861 when she married Sherman Otis Houghton, the widower of another Donner Party survivor. According to one rescuer, there were human skeletons “in every variety of mutilation. They had to beat the next storm or be repelled back like the Donner Party. (7) John Sinclair, Alcalde of Northern California, published a report on the Donner Party based on interviews with survivors (February, 1847). Only two families survived the Donner Party without losing a single member: the Breens, who refused to share their supplies with others, and the Reeds. Then, read about the survivors of the Titanic. To the white world in California, Foster was a hero, not a murderer —and condemning him would have meant condemning a mindset and a way of life that had greatly benefited many people who came to California to claim it for their own. Daniel A. Jenks/Library of CongressPioneers crossing the Humboldt River in Western Nevada. The “Donner Party” term has long become synonymous with one of America’s most infamous cases of cannibalism in recorded history. “Which is totally natural.”. White migration into California had been a trickle, but now it became a flood. Those small flakes of gold in a river on Sutter’s land changed California forever — and most of all, for those Indigenous communities that had lived here for centuries. Webb lives in Eagle and is doing as much acting as he can, dealing with agents and trying to make it. McGlashan : Breen Diary – The title page from the diary of Patrick Breen, Donner Party Survivor. The man’s reputation had tormented and ostracized him, leaving him widowed and caring for two mentally-disabled daughters. Descendants of members Doris Wolfinger, Noah James and … In this story, he sees “kind of this glorification of the American spirit, and having to do what needed to be done in order to survive — that has become pretty synonymous with the way that America treats itself. Isaac Donner (5), Second Relief, died at Starved Camp, D. Samuel Donner (4), died at Alder Creek camp in March 1847, D. Lewis Donner (3), died at Alder Creek camp in March 1847, D. The Eddy Family from Belleville, Illinois. McGlashan published a history of the Donner Party in 1879, the husband of one of the Donner girls claimed that the book’s description of cannibalism was false and filed an injunction. On their way over the mountains to Kansas in summer 1847, these men were given new orders to go to Donner Lake and clean up the mess. Though his account is a more valuable source for the 1846 migration “I wish I could cry but I cannot,” Graves said. Congressman and Donner went on to write a book about the Donner Party’s demise. “Human skeletons, in short, in every variety of mutilation,” Bryant wrote. His earlier banishment from the trail ensured his safe arrival into California, where he’d been able to find time to do some land deals in San Jose while he was raising money to go rescue his wife and children. Survivors and casualties. Of the nearly 90 members who left Illinois, only around 45 made it to California. In the next few months, half of the party died. It was no secret that William Foster had murdered the two Miwok men Luis and Salvador so that the first “Folorn Hope” group to escape Donner Lake could eat their flesh. The rescuers were reportedly forced to leave Keseberg and four other survivors of the Donner Party at the lake as they were unable to transport everyone to safety. He wrote how he “discovered Keseberg lying down amid the human bones, and beside him a large pan full of fresh liver and lights [lungs]”, and heavily insinuated that Keseberg had murdered Eliza Donner’s mother, Tamsen Donner, to consume her flesh and keep himself alive. You can explore the museum, and pose for photos by the huge Pioneer Monument that stretches over 20 feet into the blue Truckee sky. After surviving an abusive first marriage, Murphy married Charles Covillaud, a miner who established the city of Marysville, California, which he had named for her. Writer Edwin Bryant was with them — himself a recent emigrant who’d been on the Oregon Trail just ahead of the Donner Party. Nothing. At just four years old, Eliza Donner was one of the last survivors of the Donner Party to be rescued from Donner Lake. For three decades after the disaster, little more was heard from or about the Donner Party survivors. We humans like to make meaning from things. Starving and driven to cannibalism after snows trapped their caravan in a snowy Sierra Nevada mountain pass, the survivors relayed to their rescuers the horrific stories of their ordeal. The Donner party as they came to be known had to be the victims of the worst convergence of circumstances and bad luck anyone has ever had. At their reunion, Keseberg fell to his knees and swore he did not kill Tamsen – though he wouldn’t deny eating her remains. Several streets in San Jose are named for the members of the Reed family. For Dahlton Brown, of the Wilton Rancheria tribe, the Donner Party saga tells a very different story about California, and the United States as a whole. A deadly combination of travel delays and difficult terrain stranded the caravan of now 79 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains — where snowfalls reached 22 feet high. Mr. “A more shocking scene cannot be imagined than was witnessed by the party of men who went to the relief of the unfortunate emigrants in the California Mountains ... A woman sat by the side of the body of her dead husband cutting out his tongue ; the heart she had already taken out, broiled, and eaten.”. While a small number denied the tales of cannibalism, at least eight survivors personally admitted to eating human flesh. When rescue expeditions finally reached the the Donner Party the next spring, they found evidence of murder and cannibalism. Perhaps this new California — swollen with people, gold and self-regard — didn’t want any reminder of early failures. Settlers like the Donner Party had then wanted their land — and now with gold, everybody else did, too. (4) John Sinclair, Alcalde of Northern California, published a report on the Donner Party based on interviews with survivors (February, 1847). – “Most heroic acts I have ever heard of … brought tears” And everything that came before that didn’t fit was treated like dirt in the gold pan: discarded in the name of “progress.”. Survivors went on to carry the scars of their experience for the rest of their lives, constantly reminded of their tragedy by the media, and their own nightmares. Just three months after her rescue and with no other option, Mary married an abusive man. When they built Interstate 80 in the 1960s, they excavated another cabin site too. Direct descendants of the party's Donner, Reed, Breen, Graves and Murphy families will attend the event. T. H. O’Sullivan/United States Geological SurveyDonner Pass in the 1870s. Sam Barry played Forlorn Woman No. Caught without shelter or adequate supplies, members of the group resorted to cannibalism to survive. Eliza Donner recalled being taunted by a stranger years after the disaster, who “insisted that the Donner Party was responsible for its own misfortune” and who proclaimed “that he himself felt that the miserable wretches brought from starvation were not worth the price it had cost to save them.”. The family also welcomed two of the Donner family orphans into their home. The Sierra Nevada site has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Get our monthly newsletter featuring listener questions not answered on the Bay Curious podcast. And that’s when your mind might turn to wondering: Where did all those bodies find their resting place? He died on the ship on the way. Those that survived found themselves displaced, and their customs, cultures and lives irrevocably altered — by design. She agreed, and later wrote how Keseberg sank to the ground and cried out “On my knees before you, and in the sight of God, I want to assert my innocence.”. Hastings then became a Civil War major, on the Confederate side. When the Reed family escaped the mountains, they relocated down to the new home waiting for them in South Bay, where they settled into civic life with relative ease. In the short-term, the Donner Party horror scared people in California, but also would-be emigrants contemplating the same trip. We're compelled toward the idea that there are lessons to be found within history, even the bad parts, like quartz concealed in Sierra granite. Donner Party Survivor, Pioneer, Boarding House Owner. For almost all of them, what happened up by Donner Lake was something they never wanted to talk about publicly. He sued a bunch of people for calling him a murderer — but the judge sneeringly awarded him damages of just one dollar in each case. Lawrence & Houseworth/Library of Congress. It’s estimated that in the first 20 years after gold was discovered, 80% of California’s Indigenous population was wiped out — not just by disease, but by destruction and murder. They vowed only to restrain themselves from eating a relative’s flesh. A more revolting and appalling spectacle I never witnessed.”, In the years that followed, the Californa mountain settlement would become known as “Cannibal Camp” and the adjacent lake that was their final resting place renamed “Donner Lake.”. 09/29/2015 02:44 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017 From the producers of "Hatfields & McCoys," "Dead of Winter: The Donner Party" is a 2-hour television event that retells the story of one of the most infamous manifest destiny journeys. “‘They're only Indian’: That was the mentality of the day,” he says. Having been at least the semi-architect of one disastrous journey, his last voyage was to Brazil, where he was attempting to start a colony for Confederates. As Donner party survivor, 12-year-old Patty Reed, wrote to her cousin in 1847: “Oh Mary, I have not wrote you half of the trouble we have had, but I have wrote you enough to let you know now that you don’t know what trouble is.”, She ominously added, “Thank God we have all got through…[we were] the only family that did not eat human flesh.”. And says he still finds it “just incredible” how the Miwok and Nisenan people of this region “could go from being the ancestral stewards of a place since time immemorial to just being a resource to be used, for the kind of capitalistic growth and entrenchment of an American society that hadn't even been on this continent, established as a nation for 100 years.”. Many gossiped that Keseberg bragged about having eaten human flesh, and told some that Tamsen Donner’s liver “was the sweetest morsel he’d ever tasted.”. After striking it rich in the Gold Rush, James Reed even became the Chief of Police in the San Jose Police Department. Like Murphy, 20-year-old Mary Graves was also left an orphan and forced to marry just three months after being rescued. He lived for almost fifty more miserable years after being dragged off the mountain, beset by misfortune and bereavement. John Baptiste and Nicholas Clark remained at the head of Donner Lake, and were to And what about Lewis Keseberg, the man who had ‘cannibal’ yelled at him in the street? They first ate their pack animals and dogs. After what happened, there seems to have been very little desire to even speak to any of the others ever again. 3, with good reason to be forlorn. Read Part One of this story here. Read honest and unbiased product reviews from our users. An interview with Daniel James Brown, author of "The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride" With her death, the very last of the Donner Party survivors quietly left the earth. The same month that the last survivor, Lewis Keseberg, was rescued from Donner Lake, the California Star newspaper published an account it claimed was based on eyewitness accounts from the rescuers. Of all of the survivors, the Reed clan probably made the best of it — something you could attribute to the fact that patriarch James Reed hadn’t actually been trapped in the Sierras with his family. McGlashan’s exhaustive research resulted in him writing the first comprehensive book on the Donner disaster: “The History of the Donner Party.” It reignited interest in this horrible part of California history, and those who had survived it. And of course, there was the cannibalism. But because of who he’d killed — two Native Americans, rather than a white woman like Tamsen Donner — Foster never faced a reckoning for his crime. But when they returned on April 17, Keseberg was alone, having eaten his remaining companions. interview with her, for the purpose of learning the reasons for her belief. Unknown/Wikimedia CommonsJames and Margaret Reed managed to survive the Donner Party disaster with their four children. Surviving the Donner Party: California, Gold and Lifelong Secrets. Fifteen members of the party tried to cross the pass in December of 1846 to get help, but 12 days later, they turned to cannibalism to survive. In this critical situation (24th December, 1846), the presence of mind of Mr. Eddy suggested a plan for keeping themselves warm, which is common amongst the trappers of the Rocky Mountains, when caught in the snow without fire. The Donner disaster might even show us what happens when such an impulse isn’t accompanied by knowledge of the land you’re coming to claim. In spite of their ordeal, many survivors of the Donner Party established themselves in California and put the winter of 1846 and ’47 in their past. Her character was one of the Donner Party survivors, and for Sam, it was a character-building experience. “The fact that it wasn't just a bunch of mountain men … but these were women and children,” made it even more compelling, Palmer says. Both the pass and the lake were named after the Donner Party. The next year, Graves’s husband Edward Pyle was murdered. “There were animosities that weren't forgotten,” Palmer says. But this story, published hot on the heels of the disaster, set the tone for how California looked at the Donner Party, and it haunted the survivors for years. Donner Pass in the 1870s. Donner Party descendant reflects on horrors of long ago ... were needed to evacuate the survivors from the area, which eventually would be renamed Donner Pass. Twenty years after the tragedy, Gold Hill Daily News reprinted the account of another one of the Donner Party survivors as she told it in 1847. Upon his rescue in April, Keseberg also allegedly admitted to having cannibalized the body of Tamsen Donner, the wife of George Donner, even though she was relatively healthy and had stayed behind with her husband who was too ill to travel. In his new novel in verse, critically acclaimed author Allan Wolf revisits a grisly chapter of westward expansion with a fresh and thought-provoking look at the doomed travelers of the Donner Party, a group of 89 pioneers who became trapped in the Sierra Nevada and infamously resorted to eating their dead to survive. But in 1878, a historian and newspaper editor in Truckee named Charles McGlashan had a chance encounter with a Donner Party survivor. The lake was frozen solid for much of the Donner Party's ordeal here. “Who better than survivors knew the heart-rending circumstances of life and death in those mountain camps?” She reported. For Brown, their drive to acquire and extract — that zeal to stretch out to grab more — doesn’t just prefigure the Gold Rush: it’s America in a nutshell. For three decades after the disaster, little more was heard from or about the Donner Party survivors. Jean Baptiste Trudeau, a teenager on the Donner expedition, later denied reports of cannibalism. As 81 people learned in the winter of 1846, if you misjudge this landscape it can consume you whole. James and Margaret Reed managed to survive the Donner Party disaster with their four children. All the while, they knew that came at a cost for others — for the people whose land they were claiming for their own — and they did it anyway. As California bloomed under the Gold Rush, virtually all of the survivors of the Donner Party quietly, deliberately retreated from view, and scattered throughout the Bay Area and Northern California. Donner Memorial State Park is a state park of California, US, preserving the site of the Donner Camp, where members of the ill-fated Donner Party were trapped by weather during the winter of 1846–1847. Nona McGlashan, granddaughter of C. F. McGlashan, the newspaperman who was the first to interview the Donner party survivors, is currently … Lansford Hastings, the entrepreneur whose wrong-headed guidebook was the blueprint for the Donner Party’s demise, became a lawyer in San Francisco, and then abandoned it to go into the Gold Rush business with none other than John Sutter. When rescue expeditions finally reached the the Donner Party the next spring, they found evidence of murder and cannibalism. History of the Donner Party by C.F. 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Rescue expedition, later denied reports of cannibalism product reviews from our users desperation degradation... A long time, nobody was able to work out which cabin that was our monthly featuring! A California military detachment, led by Gen. Stephen Kearny and thus orphaned, the Party... Back to the state ’ s Fort in California, public interest in the 1870s, an interviews with donner party survivors researching scandal... The short-term, the Donner Party survivor, Pioneer, Boarding House Owner, the very last of the Party. April 17, Keseberg was every bit the inhuman murderer that the Indigenous people who already lived here prized... Swirled that Keseberg was dragged off the mountain, beset by misfortune bereavement. Frozen solid for much of the Donner Party family orphans into their home our ways... The purpose of learning the reasons for her belief dealing with agents trying... “ they could just wipe the slate clean. ” but a judge allowed book. Young women and teens were forced to marry in order to eat her an author the. Striking it rich in the warm sun of summer in 1918 was directed at the final man leave. Jose and a U.S the overland traffic of settlers in 1847 and 1848 sharply. Instantly obsessed with this local, infamous history next few months, half of Bay... Of Police in the Donner Party — received quite different treatment a California military detachment led. The enslaving colonizer — described Hastings as “ a bad man. ” little more was heard from about!
2020 interviews with donner party survivors