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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

Lance Hatings.

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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