"I may never see you again …" Donner Party Update | SierraSun.com

"I may never see you again …" Donner Party Update

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.

Feb. 27 to March 5, 1847

The first and second rescue parties crossed paths in the vicinity of Bear Valley. James Reed of the second rescue party finally was united with his family, except for Patty and Thomas. It had been five months since Reed had seen his family.

He recorded in his diary, “Feb. 27. “Here (Bear Valley) I met my wife and two little children. Two of my children are still in the mountains. I can not describe the death-like look all these people had. ‘Bread!’ ‘Bread!’ ‘Bread!’ ‘Bread!’ was the begging cry of every child and grown person.”

The first rescue party continued on to Johnson’s Ranch. They made camp by the cache the rescuers had previously put up. Luckily, the cache of food was still there, the animals had not gotten to it. For their own safety, the 19 Donner Party members were restricted to the amount of food they were allowed to eat.

However, it was sometime during the night that 12-year-old William Hook could not control his hunger any longer. He crept away from the others to where the cache of food was hidden and ate all that he could possibly hold in his stomach. This unfortunate incident caused his death by the next morning. The rest of the party after burying him, with the exception of 12-year-old William Murphy, continued on toward Johnson’s Ranch.

William’s feet were badly swollen and he was unable to wear his shoes and had to walk barefooted over the snow. This caused him to fall behind everyone else. It took William two days to make the same journey that the rest of them made in one day.

Charles McGlashan wrote about William in his book History of the Donner Party, “Nothing but an indomitable will could have sustained him during those two days.” Young Murphy’s plight was characteristic of those Donner Party members who had beaten the odds and had finally made it to safety.

By the Feb. 28, Reed and the others in the second rescue party were close to reaching the lake camps. Because of the soft snow which was 30 feet deep in spots, Reed made camp early this day. However, three of the rescuers went on ahead, arriving at the lake that night.

They handed out provisions to Keseberg, the Breen family, the Graves and Mrs. Murphy, and then proceeded on to Alder Creek. Patrick Breen records in his diary, “Feb. 28th, One solitary Indian passed by yesterday; came from lake; had a heavy pack on his back; gave me five or six roots resembling onions in shape; tasted some like a sweet potato; full of fibers.” This Native American reportedly did not allow Breen to get near him and must have felt somewhat sorry for this lonely man who was in such a sad condition.

March 1 would be the last entry Patrick Breen would write in his diary. He stated, “Mond. March the 1st So fine and pleasant froze hard last night there has 10 men arrived this morning from Bear Valley with provisions we are to start in two to three days and cash our goods here there is amongst them some old {mountaineers} they say the snow will be here until June.”

March 2: the first rescue party reaches Mule Springs and safety. In the mountains, rescuers Clark, Cady and Stone are at the Donner camps. Clark and Cady remain at Alder Creek while Stone leaves with Isaac and Mary Donner. Clarks shoots a mother bear with cub but can’t find her after trying to follow her tracks for two days.

March 3: the second rescue party leaves with 23 members of the Donner Party. The next day Cady and Clark agree to take Tamsen’s children, Georgia, Frances and Eliza, with them to the lake to try and catch up with the rescue party.

They decided when they had reached the lake to leave the girls behind at Mrs. Murphy’s cabin because of an impending storm in which they felt the young girls would not survive. Georgia Donner later recalls her mother Tamsen saying, “I may never see you again, but God will take care of you”

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