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Donner PartyWas the Donner Party a huge tragedy, or a fatal mistake just waiting to happen to anyone? This paper is going to show the mistakes and mishaps of the Donner Party. When George Donner, and his brother Jake took the advice of a man they did not know, they felt confident in his word. He told them of a trail that was supposedly faster than the popular California Trail. They took his advice and set off. The party left with an abundant amount of food and supplies. The party looked no different from any other except for one wagon that stood out from the others. It was three stories tall and had an attic to store clothes and food. The party left from Little Sandy, Illinois, on July 20,1846. The group had Americans, Germans and a few other foreigners. The group was to start on the California Trail and then go to the left at the Little Sandy Creek. Everyone felt confident with the decision to go on the unnamed, unheard-of trail. The Donner brothers thought they would arrive at the Sierra mountain range by at least September, and at most late October.Most of the families brought only food, clothes, and important items. However the ones those brought extra items would soon find that they were punished severely by the rough trails and stricken with oxen. The going was smooth for a long time. The only problems were a few broken wheels, and axles. The oxen were showing great strength and power, and seemed to be pulling harder as the days went by. The food was staying fresh, and nobody was ever Hungary. Was this really the trail that Lanford Hastings promised to the Donners’? Everyone felt great and was happy to see that they were ahead of schedule. However, the party realized their great luck would not last them the whole trip. Already there were signs of harder traveling. Every day the dreaded Colorado Rockies seemed to be getting bigger. The group had yet to climb a real mountain, just little hills they were not educated in crossing mountains. They were not sure if their oxen were strong enough to pull the heavier wagons up the steep hillside. The first test of the oxen’ ability to pull up a hill came in the foothills of the Rockies. The team was faced with a long climb followed by a steep decent which could easily tip a wagon. The oxen appeared to be pulling well up the hill, but the decent would be a completely different challenge. The only means of stopping the wagons on downhill was to lock the axles so they would not be able to spin. The first decent took a long time, because it was the first time they had done it. It went very smooth except for a couple of tipped wagons. The first hill was thought to be hard, but compared to the mountains that had yet to be faced; this hill was nothing. After the hill they camped at a place with grass and a spring.1 The oxen were refreshed with fresh grass, and the people enjoyed the scenery, and drank the cold refreshing water. However, they could not hide the problem of crossing the gigantic Rockies. The Donner party followed Hastings trail until it turned up into the Rockies. The group now felt confident that they cross the Rockies, and that the trail would lead them to easy gaps in the mountains. Every so often the group would send out a man ahead of the group to see how the trail looked. They sent out a man, and when he came back after two days everyone was really excited. However, the news wasn’t as exciting. He said the trail went into some extremely rough parts that could only be passed on horseback. He also said that there was another place that they could go by. Everyone agreed that making their own trail was the best thing to do. Their oxen were still not at full strength, but they had to go on. The party set out on a tiring journey that was quick in draining their energy, and slow in making mileage. The group was discouraged, but complaining would do them no good now. At this point the group was making its lowest mileage yet.2 The Donner Party finally made it over the great Rockies, but not without a huge blow to their minds and on their weak bodies. The party rested for a week and a half at a nice spot with cool water, and green grass. Finally they felt good enough to move on. The oxen were still tired, but well enough to go on. The going was easy for a few days until they first spotted the Wasatch Range. They dreaded the thought of having to cross another range, but they had to keep going. The party felt discouraged about having to cross more mountains, but there was no other way around the gigantic Wasatch. The climb up was long. It took eight days to reach the summit. However, going up was the easy part. The decent down was filled with broken axles, and broken wheels. The Wasatch took its toll on the Donner Party. Their food supply was going down, and Indians were beginning to bother them. The Indians tried to be friends with the Donners’, and were. Then, one morning everyone woke up to find two oxen dead, and meat stolen from a wagon. The party then decided to send two men ahead to search the area. The two men came back and reported seeing a huge lake3 followed by a long desert. It took the party a whole week to go where the men on horses went in three days. The party found a camp by the lake, but found the water to be saltier than any ocean. The water was unsuitable to drink, so the group found another place that they called 20 springs. By the springs they found a sign that said “NO WATER FOR TWO DAYS AND TWO NIGHTS.” The party was sure that it wouldn’t be that long so they packed enough water for two days. The sign was right, they went two days and two nights, and found no water. Their water supply was not enough. The last few drops of water were so important that not even thirsty babies received water. The Donner Party actually began to think that they might die of thirst, or now even hunger. They had been out in the desert for three days now. They have been able to see mountains for a long time. They sent out two men to search for water in the nearby mountains. After three days the men came back with some bad news. They said that there is no water for 50 more miles. The group decided to leave the wagons behind, and only take the most important things in a few wagons. The oxen were also very tired. They left behind most of the oxen also. They got to the water just in time. There was only one gallon of water left. Some oxen had died, most were too sick to move. The men went back into the desert to look for some oxen. The women were left at camp, and while they were alone the Indians took some food, and shot some oxen.4

The men came back tired and with few oxen. The team rested a little, and then set out again. They moved slowly, but were still recovering. They faced very little mountains. The going was easy. They finally connected back into the California trail. They moved along the Humboldt river straight into the Sierra Nevada mountains. It had already snowed in the mountains, so the party was worried they would not get across the range, but if they didn’t they would all die. 5The party stayed the night, but woke up to two feet of new snow. The party was devastated. However, they knew they had to try and go on. They tried to push on, but they couldn’t. The snow was too deep. They went back to the lake that they stayed at the night before. There were already two forts there. The group sent out some men to get help earlier. The men came back and found the group in the forts half frozen to death, half starved to death. The men brought back seven mules. The group set off once more, but again found the snow too deep to go in. They were stuck. They had no food, and had little clothes. They had to think of something to do. They were going to die slowly if they didn’t get food. They tried to keep calm. The group was panicking. Would this be the end? It was only November, fourth. It was possible the snow could melt. The snow kept coming down. Illnesses were going around, and a few people had died of hunger. The shock of seeing death was too much for some people. The forts were crowded, and the people were filthy. The sick people were placed in one section of the fort, and the healthy in another. The stench of waste and vomit lingered in the air. As the days went by the conditions got worse. Nobody knew how deep the snow was, because nobody had been outside for days. Hunger got so bad that people were reduced to eating their waste, their fingers that had frostbite, and eventually, their own DEAD. The decision was made: SEND 15 PEOPLE TO FIND RESCUE TEAM6. The 15 people sent out, and were out of sight in an hour. The people left at camp were praying for the safety of the team. Things at camp were just getting worse. The winter was not even a quarter of the way over, and more snow had fallen than would fall in a whole year.7 The chances of the rescue team finding help was quite good, the chances of the rescuers finding the dying Donner Party was slim, but hopeful. The Donner Party had been trapped in the snow for one month. They survived on the bodies of their dead, and muddy snow. Occasionally they would eat one of their oxen, if they could find one.8 Everyone was really sick, except for a few people. By now, it was no big deal to see a person picking at a dead person’s body for food. The thing that was going on was that the party was eating each other and the sickness that the dead person had is eaten by 10 people and then one of those people is eaten, and so on. The bodies of the dead were still piling up despite people eating them. Still, some people would not eat the bodies of their friends, and family. The people who did not eat the dead, became the dead9. The surviving people weren’t sure if the rescue team would come back for them. However, the rescue team faced their own problems. They also had no food, no water, except for melted snow, and faced serious illness, and even death. They too were reduced to eating their dead. The rescue team did eventually reach help. After three weeks in the snow the rescue team, with eight people left found help. None of the members were well enough to lead a team back to the camp. Without a rescue member there was no way to find the dying Donner Party. The team had to wait for someone to get better so they could find the party. After a week two men were well enough to go back. There was still the problem of getting the survivors out, and to get them down to Sacramento. Obviously no one would be able to get out by themselves. Everybody would have to ride on horseback down to safety. There was still no way of knowing how many survivors their were. 60-50-or none? 10The rescue team set out in hope to find the party. They brought no horses because the horses had nothing to eat, and would die. The two men set out in hope to find the place from which they left from. They had no markers to go by, or a map, just instincts. The place looked a lot different because of new snow fall. That didn’t keep the team from moving on. The two recognized very little but that was enough to show the way. After another week in the snow the rescue teem spotted the party from a far off mountain peak. They would be at the camp in two more days. By this time the trapped Donner Party had lost all hope in the rescuers. The majority of the group was on the verge of death. Typhus, and lice had infested the camps, and no one went to bed without something living off of them. Hope had been lost, and so had a lot of lives. The only things’ people talked about were how nice it would be to die, and how good a turkey sandwich would taste. The rescue team arrived and found only the very top of the chimneys sticking out where the snow had melted. The team feared the worst. The victims had been staying in the cabins for two months, living off of melted snow, and dead bodies. The rescue team found the party in better condition than they expected. The team helped nurse them back to health. The rescue team brought food, and soap. They bathed the young children, and bathed the adults. The people were given clean blankets, and towels. The problem of typhus, and lice still existed. The only way to get rid of it was to burn it. The clothes of the survivors were burned, and the bodies of the dead were burned. Altogether, the Donner Party expedition was a complete tragedy. The total loss for the trip was 42 DEAD, and 47 left with the thought of tragedy, and death.

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