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Forty-six survivors out of an original 87, reached California starving,
tired, and traumatized for life from the experience they had just been
through. A year of suffering was spent on a time that was thought to have
been only a few months of easy traveling on a shortcut routed by a man named
The journey began on May 12th from Springfield Illinois. A train of nine
wagons, filled with members of the Donner and Reed families, set out in
hopes of reaching California for free land and a new life. The families had
heard of a route that would get them to this great new country taking
350-400 miles off their planned trip. It seemed to be a good idea to follow
the lead of Hastings if his promise of a shorter, easier trip was true.
The first portion of the trip went smoothly as planned and they reached
Fort Laromy on June 27. There, a man by the name of James Climan thought
that the shortcut Hastings had come up with was unpractical. He thought the
old way was safer. But Reed the leader of the group didn’t take the advice.
George Donner was elected leader of the party, even though Reed was the
obvious best person for the job. The short cut was supposed to have taken
350-400 miles off the original route. In fact it was 125 miles longer. On
August 6, there was a note left from Hastings saying the party shouldn’t
continue. The group didn’t listen to the warning though. They kept going and
soon were traveling only 2 miles a day.
On August 22 they reached The Great Salt Lake. It had taken them a month
instead of a week. So they were way behind schedule. On Aug 30 they began
the trip across the Salt Desert according to Hastings, it should have only
taken 2 days but it took five and was very difficult. Thirty oxen were lost
and people almost died of heat exhaustion.
Soon after the desert, Reed murdered a man named Snyder. He was banished
from the group and had to set out on his own. Once winter arrived, everyone
got stranded in the mountains. It snowed most of November and all the people
began starving and dying of mal nutrition. Most of the oxen died and all
the wagons were long gone. Some men went to try to get help but they got
After being in the snow so long, the people got desperate for something to
eat and drew straws to see who would be used for food. It was extremely cold
and the women and children suffered immensely. Some women had to watch their
husbands die and be eaten. A man named Patrick Dolan was the first to be
Seven relief men came to try and rescue the remaining people. They slowly
made their way towards California. On the way two children died. James Reed,
the man that was banished, led the relief party.
In April of 1847 the Donner Party survivors left the mountains and reached
their destination. Only 46 out of 87 people survived. All of the Reeds
survived and 8 of the Donners died. They wished they wouldn’t have gone
along with Hasting’s route. They did get the land they wanted though, and in
1848 gold was discovered in CA, and it became the 31st state in 1850.
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