History Of The Donner Party
Long before gold was found in California, many people decided to move to the West in order to better their lives. Among them was a group of 87 people from Springfield, Illinois. This party became known as the Donner Party, as it was led by two wealthy brothers, Jacob and George Donner. However, this moniker was only given to the group later on when stories began circulating that group cannibalized its members to survive harsh winter and snowfall in the Sierra Nevada.
The history of the Donner Party begins in the spring of 1846 when the group set out West. Initially, the group followed the usual trail and reached Wyoming without any problems. However, in Wyoming, the group met an unscrupulous trail guide, who promised to lead them through a shorter route to cut down their traveling time. However, the guide did not travel with the group, as he was leading another party. After the guide assured the group that he would leave markings along the route to lead them, the Donner Party agreed and left Wyoming.
They took the trail that the guide had asked them to take as he claimed it was a shorter route to reach Salt Lake. However, this was a mistake, as the route was longer and took them nearly 30 days. They initially reached Reno in Nevada without any problems, but they halted there for 3 days to rest and get more provisions. This turned to be a bad decision, as storms began in the mountains that the party had to cross later on. On reaching Prosser Creek, the group encountered snow, but they still kept moving. They tried to climb the mountain, but had to give up because of the storm. They set camp at Donner Lake, which was known as Truckee Lake then, making rudimentary cabins to protect themselves.
All the provisions they had collected at Reno finished and soon the party reached the brink of starvation. So, the group decided to send one part to try and scale the mountain and find rescue. Seventeen people departed, out of which two came back to the camp. Out of the remaining 15, eight people died, but seven made it to a Native American camp. One of the Native Americans then guided one surviving member to a ranch on Bear River. Thereafter, the remaining six were rescued and brought to the ranch. The ranch asked Fort Sutter to help the members that were left behind at Donner Lake. The first rescue team reached the members, but many had succumbed to starvation.
Thereafter, another rescue group met up with another second party that was making an attempt to scale the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They were rescued and brought to safety. A third rescue group went in search of George Donner and his family. They found them, but George was already dying. His wife refused to leave her husband and stayed back to die along with him. The children were saved. The last rescue group reached the spot near the lake in April and managed to rescue a sole survivor.
Out of the 87 members that left Illinois, just 47 made it. There were rumors after the rescue that the survivors had cannibalized their dead to stay alive when food ran out. However, the survivors denied this, but did not want to speak about their ordeal.
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