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Donner Party

The Donner-Reed party left Illinois in the spring of 1846 with the goal of reaching California by the end of the summer. There were 90 people in the group. Their journey consisted of a series of bad decisions all of which contributed to one of the most disasterous overland treks in American history.

The group was one of the last to leave Independence, Missouri, putting them considerably behind the other pioneering families. Another factor that led to their disasterour journey is that almost all of the members will ill-prepared for the trek across the continent. One of the wagons belonging to James Reed was overly large and ill-suited for the journey ahead. Perhaps the worst decision was to follow a route promoted by Lansford Hasting - the so-called Hastings Cutoff. This new route was touted as one that would save them considerable time and distance. The only problem is that the road did not exist.

By the time the group reached Nevada they were a month behind schedule, low on supplies, fatigued and in disarray. After James Reed got in a fight with John Snyder and killed him, Reed was bannished. He rode on ahead of the party.

By late October the finally reached the Sierra Nevada mountains and the near vertical granite wall of the only mountain pass they could find. After many failed attempts, the group decided to spend the winter at the lake to the east of the pass. As provissions had turned dangerously low, a small group plodded westerward with the goal of alerting others to send a rescue party and supplies to those left at the lake. Of the 17 who leftthe camp, only seven survived. This group had resorted to cannibalism.

James Reed rached Fort Sutter without much difficulty and his pleas to send a rescue team eastward were ignored.

Those remaining at the lake had also resorted to cannibalism for survival.

Finally, a rescue party was organized and headed to Donner Lake. They found the survors emaciated and disoriented. Those who were able to do so headed west with the rescue party. On their journey west, they met up with a second rescue party - which included James Reed. The second rescue party reached the lake on March 1 and they were able to bring more of the party west with them.

A third rescue eparty arrive two weeks later more of the party made it west. Other rescue teams would evacuate those who remained. Of the 87 people who survived the journey to the lake, only 48 survived.

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Last updated: 2010-09-12 08:33:02

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