The Donner Party

by

Daniel M. Rosen

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Donner Party, I created a daily log of the Donner Party's journey.  The daily logs include diary entries for each day, and quotes from original sources and histories.  Now that the anniversary is over, I will keep the logs on the web for your research, education and enjoyment.  

The Donner Party was the most famous tragedy in the history of the westward migration.  Almost ninety wagon train emigrants were unable to cross the Sierra Nevada before winter, and almost one-half starved to death.  Perhaps because they were ordinary people -- farmers, merchants, parents, children -- their story captures the imagination.  The logs on this site contain the words of the participants from their diaries, letters and first-hand accounts, balanced by the perspective of later historians.  The logs describe the locations of their trail and camps in detail so you can follow in the Donner Party's wagon tracks and footsteps.  


One-hundred and fifty-one years ago this month, the ordeal ended for the last survivor of the Donner Party.  Lewis Keseberg had been too sick to leave with theThird Relief in March, and had been left with the seriously ill Lavinia Murphy at the Lake cabins.  After Mrs. Murphy's death, and the arrival and death of Tamsen Donner at the end of March, Keseberg had been alone in his cabin, surviving on the bodies of the dead.  He was found by a salvage party led by the mountain man William Fallon.  Fallon's Party consisted of four men from previous reliefs, Rhoads, Tucker, Sels and Coffemeyer, Sebastian Keyser from Johnson's Ranch, and William Foster, survivor of the Snowshoe Party, who hoped to find his mother-in-law Mrs. Murphy alive, or at least salvage the family's valuables.  When Fallon's Fourth Relief arrived at the cabins, Keseberg was nowhere to be found.  Fallon's Party then went to the Donner camp, but they couldn'f find the Donners' money.  The next day they found Keseberg at his cabin when they returned.  Fallon threatened Keseberg with death if he would not reveal the Donners' money.  Keseberg led Fallon to the money, and claimed that he had promised Tamsen Donner that he would deliver her money to her children in California.  The Fourth Relief brought Keseberg in, the last member of the Donner Party to reach California.


Read the Donner Party logs:


View maps of the Donner Party's route (the Hastings Cut-off), the camps at Alder Creek and Donner Lake, and the route of the Snowshoe Party.

Read what happened to the members of the Donner Party, those who survived, and those who didn't.

Read about the salvage operations, and the remains of the Alder Creek campsites and the Lake Cabins.

Read reports from other Donner Party buffs who visited historic sites and made new discoveries, or re-discovered a bit of history.


Events

The 3rd edition of Winter of Entrapment by Joseph A. King has just been published posthumously.  The late Prof. King offered a new perspective on the Donner Party, and explored the biases in the previous histories.  The older editions are carried at most of the historical sites and visitor centers in "Donner County".  It is also available from the publisher:
K&K Publication, P.O. Box 564, Lafayatte, CA 94549, phone and fax: 925-228-9205.  The price is $13.95 plus $3 shipping plus 8.25% for California residents.  Multiple copies are $0.50 extra each.  Discounts are available for retailers.

Peter Limburg, a New York nature and science writer, has re-told the Donner Party story in Deceived.  It closely follows Thornton and Stewart, and paints Hastings as the villain of the story.  Like Stewart, it is told in a novelized fashion without annotations.  To order, contact IPS Books, 1149 Grand Teton Drive, Pacifica, CA  94044, 800-453-3152.

The Emigrant Trail Museum at Donner Memorial State Park, Donner Pass Road, 2 miles west of Truckee, contains displays about the emigrant trail over the Sierra, including artifacts from the Donner Party.  Artifacts include William Foster's rifle, right, Tamsen Donner's china, and wagon parts excavated from the Salt Desert.  The bookstore sells many of the histories of the Donner Party.  The rangers lead regular Donner Party History hikes at least twice and some-times three times a week which start at 10:00 am in front of the museum. They are free to the public.  The next special tour is:

For information and reservations for trips, call (530) 582-7892.

The Oregon-California Trails Association conducts numerous events to preserve the emigrant trail.  Local chapters include Missouri and Kansas.


Donner Party Descendants

William Eddy stated in the 1852 census that he was born in Massachussets.  Eddy family descendants report that the Eddy family had lived in the Massachussets/Rhode Island border area since the 1600's.  However, Vanik S. Eaddy has researched the Eaddy family geneaology, and believes that the Eaddy family is related to William Eddy.  Mr. Eaddy has written a well-researched paper that proposes that William Eddy may have been born in South Carolina, the first son of Edward Drake and Mary Eddy.  If you are a descendant of William Eddy, and have any information about his ancestry, please E-mail Mr. Eaddy.

The survivors of the Donner Party settled throughout California, and some became quite famous. As it happens, I live in Elk Grove, California, the final resting place of Elitha Cumi Donner Wilder, daughter of George and Mary Blue Donner. John Jameson, a descendant of Elitha Donner, has opened a Web page and is interested in keeping track of other Elitha Donner descendants.


If you are searching for geneaological information about your family, the US Gen Web Project is an excellent source.


Sources

On January 16, 1847, The California Star, Yerba Buena, reported a "most distressing situation" for "a party of emigrants."  Ever since then, there has been no shortage of printed material about the Donner Party.  The challenge has been to find accurate accounts. Often, the contemporary sources have not been the most reliable, such as the newspaper reports of the Relief parties and the first book published about the Donner Party. There have been almost as many fictional accounts as histories.  The best selling "history" is actually told as a "dramatized" story. I have tried to rely on first-person accounts and well-researched histories, as listed in my bibliography of Donner sources.


Voted the best site on the Internet by Web surfers themselves, Discovery Channel Online features original stories produced specifically for the Net, as well as complete program schedules for Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet. With live events, top-notch graphics and the premier story-telling in cyberspace, you'll find something new at Discovery Online every day.


The Learning Kingdom, Inc., a privately held California corporation, has a mission to be the best and most widely used K-12 learning center on the Internet.  All Learning Kingdom content and learning systems are available and run directly over the Internet, including Today in History.


If you are interested in biographies and diaries, visit Kenneth P Lanxner's website Lives, the Biography Resource.


Other Donner Party Websites

Visit these other Donner Party related Web sites:


Send a Message

I am very much an amateur historian.  You are welcome to assist in this effort. If you have any corrections, information, pictures, maps or other Donner memorabilia to share, let me know. If you want to send me a message about the Donner Party, or any other topic...E-mail me.


visitors since June 14, 1997

Thank you everyone

(c) 1996-1999 Daniel M. Rosen