The Donner Party
Manifest Destiny was one of the biggest defining factors of the 1840s. It saw a dramatic increase in pioneers looking to strike out, and head west to look for a better life. This brings us to the beginning of the Donner’s journey. On or about the spring of 1846 a large train of wagons headed out from Independence, Missouri and headed west along the Oregon trail towards California. In this wagon train of some 500 there were 9 wagons near the rear of the caravan containing 32 members of the Donner and Reed families and their employees.
Within a week of leaving Independence the Donners and Reeds broke off with the main train and joined with a much smaller one containing around 50 or so wagons. This wagon train was led by a man named William Russell. As this small group traveled along they were joined by the Murphy family, the Eddy family, the Breen family, and the Pike family.
The wagon train continues for several weeks making good time. By the time they arrive in Wyoming, a former governor of Missouri named Lilburn Boggs has taken control of the wagon train and the group is now known as the Boggs Company. By the end of July the train is approached by a horse delivering a message for emmigrants traveling westward. This message explains of a short cut south out of Fort Laramie, Wyoming that should shave several weeks off the travel to california. Boggs dismisses the message, but James Reed decides that it might be a good idea to follow the trail after meeting with a man who had made the trip perviously.
Once the train arrives at Fort Laramie the Donners, Reeds, Eddys, Murphys, Breens and Pikes strike out south on their own along the route laid out by a man named Lansford Hastings. Several days later they arrive at a small fort and learn that Hastings was already leading a wagon train along the route and that they were about a week ahead of them. Hastings left a message for anyone wanting to join them to press along the trail after them. The wagon train stayed at the fort for four days to rest their oxen and make repairs in the hopes they could catch up if they were better rested.
The Donner party makes good time following the tracks of Hastings, and eventually comes to Weber Canyon where they find a note left by Hastings. The note explains that part of the trail has been blocked and is impassable by wagon and he requests that anyone following to send a scout to come find him along the trail. James Reed agrees to be the lone scout, and about a day later he finds Hasting’s group. Hastings joins Reed and they head back towards to Donner Party so he can point out an alternate route for them. Four days after leaving to find Hastings, Reed returns with the information and the party heads out. Unfortunately, the path laid out ahead of them requires a lot of chopping wood, and clearing movable debris. This slows the Donner party down considerably, and allows a small wagon train of the Graves family to catch up with them for the trek down Hasting’s path. The party now has 30 some odd wagons and approximately 90 people.
The party makes its way on to Utah and the great salt lake where they find their water supplies dwindling. Hastings had left a note explaining they would have a 2 day journey across dry land, but the Donner party took over five days to finally make it out of the desert during which time they lost almost 40 heads of cattle, various oxen and had to abandon 3 of their wagons. The trek across the desert was only supposed to be around 40 miles across, but turned out being more than 80. After recovering from their ordeal the Donner Party realizes they don’t have enough food to make the last 600 miles of their journey, and send off a couple of men to Fort Sutter in California to request more.
By the end of September the Donner Party finally arrives at the Humbolt River, and the last leg of their journey but they are already more than a month behind schedule and fear starts to set in that they might not clear the Sierra-Nevada mountains into California before the snows start. In early October, John Snyder the driver for the Graves family gets into a fight with James Reed over his oxen and ends up whipping him. This starts a fight which ends with Reed killing Snyder. In reality, Reed and William Graves saw Snyder performing some sort of strange ritual and they tried to stop him, and in the end killed him. Graves promised Reed he’s find out what happened, but before he could investigate the remaining people decided to banish Reed for killing the man. William Graves snuck off later that same night and gave Reed food and a weapon and told him to head to Fort Sutter and get help.
Several days after Reed’s banishment the Donner Party is attacked by Indians where they kill 20 oxen and steal or wound many others. The party now has lost more than 100 heads of cattle along their trip. By mid-October the Donner Party has finally arrived at the Truckee river which will lead them through the Sierra Nevada. It was already quite cold, and the morning frosts were getting worse.
By the end of October one of the scouts the Donner Party sent off to Fort Sutter returns with food, and guides. James Reed finally arrives at Fort Sutter and seeks out some sort of information about what Snyder was doing, and tries to find anyone willing to help him go back. James Reed eventually finds a man by the name of George McKinstry who not only knows about what Snyder was doing, but is willing to help him save the wagon train. Unfortunately, it is too little too late and the snows started falling. Within a few days the snows were already 5 feet deep and the two had to wait to come to the Donner Party’s rescue.