Donner Party – 150 Years Ago this week
By Friday, the 13th of February, the First Relief Party had arrived at Bear Valley. It had taken them ten days to travel from Johnson’s Ranch to Bear Valley. Somewhere along the north end of the valley there was a cache of provisions. Reed and McCutchen after their attempt to rescue the Donner Party back in November, had left supplies in an abandoned wagon that belonged to Jotham Curtis. They were able to find the wagon, but it was buried under ten feet of snow. When they finally uncovered it, they found that their provisions had been ransacked by animals. The rescuers spent two days here after a rain and snow storm, drying themselves and their belongings out. Before leaving they made a cache of some of their supplies. This time they suspended the goods in bales that were tied to the branches of a tree, in hopes that this would prevent the bears and other animals from getting to it before they were able to return.
At the lake cabins on February 14th, Eddy’s and Foster’s only children were bedridden and near death. Also, thirteen year old Virginia Reed and the teamster John Denton were very sick and close to death. Meanwhile, the rescue members were having great difficulty in traveling over the deep snows. They were faced with climbing over the steep precipitous at Emigrant Gap. It was here that three of the members of the party, Colonel Ritchie, Jotham Curtis and a man they called “Greasy Jim”, decided that they could no longer continue due to the hardships that they had been encountering. Dan Tucker, the leader of this First Rescue Party, feared more of the men might quit the expedition so he offered them five dollars a day to continue until the end. Now there were seven men that made up this group and they would finally make it to the lake camps on Thursday, February 18th. It was dusk by the time they reached the cabins.
It had taken them fourteen days to journey from Johnson’s Ranch to Donner Lake. When they first arrived they so no sign of life and called out in unison in hopes that someone would hear them. The cabins were concealed under so much snow that when a woman in the distance approached them, it appeared that she had just come up from a whole in the snow. She cried out the famous quote, “Are you men from California or do you come from heaven.”
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