Endurance drains from weary Donner Party
During the Donner Party sesquicentennial (1846-47 to 1996-97), the Sierra Sun is following the emigrants’ historic journey with the help of Gayle Green, historian and park aide at Donner Memorial State Park’s Emigrant Trail Museum.
March 6 to March 12, 1847
The eighth storm of the season created even more misery and hardships for those left of the Donner Party. This storm caused James Reed and the others in the second rescue party to become stranded in a very unprotected area which later became known as “Starved Camp.”
Reed wrote in his diary about the situation: “With the snow there is a perfect hurricane. In the night there is a great crying among the children, and even with the parents there is praying, crying and lamentation on account of the cold and the dread of death from hunger and howling storm.”
Every one of the refugees was so weak that the storm’s fury was exhausting what little endurance they had left. On March 7, three of the members of this party could hold out no longer. Mrs. Graves was the first to die. Next it was 5 year-old Isaac Donner, who perished during the night lying between his sister Mary and Patty Reed. Another 5 year-old, Franklin Graves, Jr. didn’t make it through the night.
Also on March 7 at the Alder Creek camps, death came to two more of the Donner Party members. This time it was Jacob Donner’s wife, Elizabeth, and Lewis, his 3 year-old son. The same day, William Eddy and William Foster left Johnson’s Ranch to journey to Mule Springs where they would try to recruit men for a third rescue party.
The storm finally ended around March 8. The members of the second rescue party had been without food for over 24 hours. Reed had already sent three of his men ahead to bring back provisions, but the men would not make it back in time to help.
Patrick Breen and his family, the Graves children and Mary Donner could not leave “Starved Camp” as Reed had requested. Reed continued on with his family, leaving behind 11 people that would have to wait until the third relief party came. His daughter Patty would almost die during the journey to safety. She came so close to death that she was hallucinating stars and angels. The Reeds reached Woodworth’s camp at Mule Springs around March 10. Patty pulled out from her dress the now famous doll she called “Dolly” and spoke to it as if it were finally safe and happy.
Eddy and Foster were having problems recruiting men to go with them until Reed and his family showed up, stating there were still members of his group stranded in the mountains. Eddy managed to get seven men to assist in this rescue effort. One of these men, Hiram Miller, had just arrived with Reed and volunteered right away to return with Eddy and Foster.
Not enough can be said about those men who volunteered and risked their lives to save those of the Donner Party.
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