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Donner Party

Background information about the Oregon Trail – Valerie
What their mission was – Priya
What actually happened – Mariam
Lifestyle of the Donner Party – Catherine
July 31
st
– Party left Fort Bridger. The group had 74 people in twenty wagons and for the first week,
made good progress at 10-12 miles per day.
August 6
th
– Party reached the Weber River and found a note from Hastings advising them not to
follow him down Weber Canyon because it was impassible, but take another trail through the Salt
Basin. The group decided to try the new trail.
August 11
th
– Wagons had to be abandoned and morale began to sink. Pioneers began to blame
Lansford Hastings and by the time they reached the shore, they also blamed James Reed.
August 25
th
– Caravan lost a member, Luke Halloran. Fear began to set in as provisions ran low.
August 30
th
– Group began to cross the Great Salt Lake Desert. According to Hastings, it would take
two days. The desert sand was moist and deep and wagons got bogged down. On the third day, their
water supply was nearly exhausted and some of Reed’s oxen ran away. Reed abandoned two of his
wagons and the Donners lost one wagon.
September 10
th
– 25
th
– Party followed the trail into Nevada and arrived at Humboldt River on
September 26
th
. They finally saw the trail meeting up with Hasting’s original path. They traveled an
extra 125 miles through mountain terrain and dry desert. The disillusioned party’s resentment of
Hastings and Reed was increased.
October 5
th
– At Iron Point, two wagons became entangled. John Snyder, a teamster of one of the
wagons, began to whip his oxen. James Reed killed Snyder when he wouldn’t stop whipping his oxen.
The party voted to banish Reed for his deeds.
October 12
th
– The Party’s oxen were attacked by Piute Indians, killing 21 of them with poison tipped
arrows.
October 28
th
– George Donner’s wagon axle broke and he cut his hand with a chisel, causing the group
to fall behind.
As the rest of the party continued to move forward to what is now known as Donner’s Lake, snow
began to fall. They made it to the summit, but could go no further. The party retraced their steps
where five feet of new snow had fallen.
Over the next four months, the remaining men, women, and children stayed together in cabins, make
shift lean-tos, and tents.
On Thanksgiving, it started to snow again, and the pioneers at Donner Lake killed their last oxen for
food on November 29
th
.
The next day, five more feet of snow fell, and the party’s last few cattle were slaughtered for food and
they began to eat boiled hides, twigs, bones, and bark. Some men tried to hunt with little success.
December 15
th
– Balis Williams died of malnutrition and the group realized that something had to be
done before they all died.
The remaining members of the party decided to travel the 100 miles to Sutter’s Fort, but on the sixth
day of their travel, their food ran out and nobody ate for the next three days while they traveled
through high winds and freezing weather.
More members died and in desperation, the others resorted to cannibalism. The survivors were
reduced to seven by the time they reached safety on the western side of the mountains on January 19,
1847. Only two of ten men survived and all five women survived. Of the eight who died, seven had
been cannibalized. Messages were sent to neighboring settlements as area residents rallied to save
the rest of the Donner Party.
March 1
st
– The second relief party arrived at the lake to find evidence of cannibalism. The next day,
they arrived at Alder Creek to find that the Donners had also resorted to cannibalism. Isaac Donner
died and was cannibalized.
April 17
th
– The relief party reached the camps and found only Louis Keseberg alive among the
mutilated remains of his former companions. Louis Keseberg was the last member of the Donner
Party to arrive at Sutter’s Fort on April 29
th
. It took two months and four relief parties to rescue the
entire surviving Donner Party.
Two-thirds of the men in the party perished, while two-thirds of the women and children lived. Forty-
one individuals died, and forty-six survived.
http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ca-donnerparty.html

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