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The Expedition of the Donner Party and its Tragic Fate by Eliza Poor Donner Houghton

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[Illustration: S.O. HOUGHTON]

THE EXPEDITION OF THE DONNER PARTY

AND ITS TRAGIC FATE

BY ELIZA P. DONNER HOUGHTON

[Illustration: Eliza P. Donner Houghton]

PREFACE

Out of the sunshine and shadows of sixty-eight years come these
personal recollections of California--of the period when American
civilization first crossed its mountain heights and entered its
overland gateways.

I seem to hear the tread of many feet, the lowing of many herds, and
know they are the re-echoing sounds of the sturdy pioneer home-seekers.
Travel-stained and weary, yet triumphant and happy, most of them reach
their various destinations, and their trying experiences and valorous
deeds are quietly interwoven with the general history of the State.

Not so, however, the "Donner Party," of which my father was captain.
Like fated trains of other epochs whose privations, sufferings, and
self-sacrifices have added renown to colonization movements and served
as danger signals to later wayfarers, that party began its journey with
song of hope, and within the first milestone of the promised land ended
it with a prayer for help. "Help for the helpless in the storms of the
Sierra Nevada Mountains!"

And I, a child then, scarcely four years of age, was too young to do
more than watch and suffer with other children the lesser privations
of our snow-beleaguered camp; and with them survive, because the
fathers and mothers hungered in order that the children might live.

Scenes of loving care and tenderness were emblazoned on my mind. Scenes
of anguish, pain, and dire distress were branded on my brain during
days, weeks, and months of famine,--famine which reduced the party from
eighty-one souls to forty-five survivors, before the heroic relief men
from the settlements could accomplish their mission of humanity.

Who better than survivors knew the heart-rending circumstances of life
and death in those mountain camps? Yet who can wonder that tenderest
recollections and keenest heartaches silenced their quivering lips for
many years; and left opportunities for false and sensational details to
be spread by morbid collectors of food for excitable brains, and for
prolific historians who too readily accepted exaggerated and
unauthentic versions as true statements?

Who can wonder at my indignation and grief in little girlhood, when I
was told of acts of brutality, inhumanity, and cannibalism, attributed
to those starved parents, who in life had shared their last morsels of
food with helpless companions?

Who can wonder that I then resolved that, "When I grow to be a woman I
shall tell the story of my party so clearly that no one can doubt its
truth"? Who can doubt that my resolve has been ever kept fresh in mind,
by eager research for verification and by diligent communication with
older survivors, and rescuers sent to our relief, who answered my many
questions and cleared my obscure points?

And now, when blessed with the sunshine of peace and happiness, I am
finishing my work of filial love and duty to my party and the State of
my adoption, who can wonder that I find on my chain of remembrance
countless names marked, "forget me not"? Among the many to whom I
became greatly indebted in my young womanhood for valuable data and
gracious encouragement in my researches are General William Tecumseh
Sherman, General John A. Sutter, Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, Mrs. Jessie
Benton Fremont, Honorable Allen Francis, and C.F. McGlashan, author of
the "History of the Donner Party."

My fondest affection must ever cling to the dear, quaint old pioneer
men and women, whose hand-clasps were warmth and cheer, and whose
givings were like milk and honey to my desolate childhood. For each and
all of them I have full measure of gratitude, often pressed down, and
now overflowing to their sons and daughters, for, with keenest
appreciation I learned that, on June 10, 1910, the order of Native Sons
of the Golden West laid the corner stone of "Donner Monument," on the
old emigrant trail near the beautiful lake which bears the party's
name. There the Native Sons of the Golden West, aided by the Native
Daughters of the Golden West, propose to erect a memorial to all
overland California pioneers.

In a letter to me from Dr. C.W. Chapman, chairman of that monument
committee, is the following forceful paragraph:

"The Donner Party has been selected by us as the most typical and as
the most varied and comprehensive in its experiences of all the
trains that made these wonderful journeys of thousands of miles, so
unique in their daring, so brave, so worthy of the admiration of
man."

ELIZA P. DONNER HOUGHTON.

Los Angeles, California,

_September, 1911_.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I

THE PACIFIC COAST IN 1845--SPEECHES OF SENATOR BENTON AND REPORT OF
CAPT. FREMONT--MY FATHER AND HIS FAMILY--INTEREST AWAKENED IN THE NEW
TERRITORY--FORMATION OF THE FIRST EMIGRANT PARTY FROM ILLINOIS TO
CALIFORNIA--PREPARATIONS FOR THE JOURNEY--THE START--ON THE OUTSKIRTS
OF CIVILIZATION

CHAPTER II

IN THE TERRITORY OF KANSAS--PRAIRIE SCHOONERS FROM SANTA FE TO
INDEPENDENCE, MO.--LIFE _en route_--THE BIG BLUE--CAMP GOVERNMENT--THE
_Blue Rover_

CHAPTER III

IN THE HAUNTS OF THE PAWNEES--LETTERS OF MRS. GEORGE DONNER--HALT AT
FORT BERNARD--SIOUX INDIANS AT FORT LARAMIE

CHAPTER IV

FOURTH OF JULY IN AN EMIGRANT PARTY--OPEN LETTER OF LANSFORD
HASTINGS--GEORGE DONNER ELECTED CAPTAIN OF PARTY BOUND FOR
CALIFORNIA--ENTERING THE GREAT DESERT--INSUFFICIENT SUPPLY OF
FOOD--VOLUNTEERS COMMISSIONED BY MY FATHER TO HASTEN TO SUTTER'S FORT
FOR RELIEF

CHAPTER V

BEWILDERING GUIDE BOARD--SOUL-TRYING STRUGGLES--FIRST SNOW--REED-SNYDER
TRAGEDY--HARDCOOP'S FATE

CHAPTER VI

INDIAN DEPREDATIONS--WOLFINGER'S DISAPPEARANCE--STANTON RETURNS WITH
SUPPLIES FURNISHED BY CAPT. SUTTER--DONNER WAGONS SEPARATED FROM TRAIN
FOREVER--TERRIBLE PIECE OF NEWS--FORCED INTO SHELTER AT DONNER
LAKE--DONNER CAMP ON PROSSER CREEK.

CHAPTER VII

SNOWBOUND--SCARCITY OF FOOD AT BOTH CAMPS--WATCHING FOR RETURN OF
MCCUTCHEN AND REED

CHAPTER VIII

ANOTHER STORM--FOUR DEATHS IN DONNER CAMP--FIELD MICE USED FOR
FOOD--CHANGED APPEARANCE OF THE STARVING--SUNSHINE--DEPARTURE OF THE
"FORLORN HOPE"--WATCHING FOR RELIEF--IMPOSSIBLE TO DISTURB THE BODIES
OF THE DEAD IN DONNER CAMP--ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE OF FIRST RELIEF PARTY

CHAPTER IX

SUFFERINGS OF THE "FORLORN HOPE"--RESORT TO HUMAN FLESH--"CAMP OF
DEATH"--BOOTS CRISPED AND EATEN--DEER KILLED--INDIAN _Rancheria_--THE
"WHITE MAN'S HOME" AT LAST

CHAPTER X

RELIEF MEASURES INAUGURATED IN CALIFORNIA--DISTURBED CONDITIONS BECAUSE
OF MEXICAN WAR--GENEROUS SUBSCRIPTIONS--THREE PARTIES ORGANIZE--"FIRST
RELIEF," UNDER RACINE TUCKER; "SECOND RELIEF," UNDER REED AND
GREENWOOD; AND RELAY CAMP UNDER WOODWORTH--FIRST RELIEF PARTY CROSSES
SNOW-BELT AND REACHES DONNER LAKE

CHAPTER XI

WATCHING FOR THE SECOND RELIEF PARTY--"OLD NAVAJO"--LAST FOOD IN CAMP

CHAPTER XII

ARRIVAL OF SECOND RELIEF, OR REED-GREENWOOD PARTY--FEW SURVIVORS STRONG
ENOUGH TO TRAVEL--WIFE'S CHOICE--PARTINGS AT DONNER CAMP--MY TWO
SISTERS AND I DESERTED--DEPARTURE OF SECOND RELIEF PARTY

CHAPTER XIII

A FATEFUL CABIN--MRS. MURPHY GIVES MOTHERLY COMFORT--THE GREAT
STORM--HALF A BISCUIT--ARRIVAL OF THIRD RELIEF--"WHERE IS MY BOY?"

CHAPTER XIV

THE QUEST OF TWO FATHERS--SECOND RELIEF IN DISTRESS--THIRD RELIEF
ORGANIZED AT WOODWORTH'S RELAY CAMP--DIVIDES AND ONE HALF GOES TO
SUCCOR SECOND RELIEF AND ITS REFUGEES; AND THE OTHER HALF PROCEEDS TO
DONNER LAKE--A LAST FAREWELL--A WOMAN'S SACRIFICE

CHAPTER XV

SIMON MURPHY, FRANCES, GEORGIA, AND I TAKEN FROM THE LAKE CABINS BY THE
THIRD RELIEF--NO FOOD TO LEAVE--CROSSING THE SNOW--REMNANT OF THE
SECOND RELIEF OVERTAKEN--OUT OF THE SNOW--INCIDENTS OF THE
JOURNEY--JOHNSON'S RANCH--THE SINCLAIR HOME--SUTTER'S FORT

CHAPTER XVI

ELITHA AND LEANNA--LIFE AT THE FORT--WATCHING THE COW PATH--RETURN OF
THE FALLON PARTY--KESEBERG BROUGHT IN BY THEM--FATHER AND MOTHER DID
NOT COME

CHAPTER XVII

ORPHANS--KESEBERG AND HIS ACCUSERS--SENSATIONAL ACCOUNTS OF THE TRAGEDY
AT DONNER LAKE--PROPERTY SOLD AND GUARDIAN APPOINTED--KINDLY
INDIANS--"GRANDPA"--MARRIAGE OF ELITHA

CHAPTER XVIII

"GRANDMA"--HAPPY VISITS--A NEW HOME--AM PERSUADED TO LEAVE IT

CHAPTER XIX

ON A CATTLE RANCH NEAR THE COSUMNE RIVER--"NAME BILLY"--INDIAN GRUB
FEAST

CHAPTER XX

I RETURN TO GRANDMA--WAR RUMORS AT THE FORT--LINGERING HOPE THAT MY
MOTHER MIGHT BE LIVING--AN INDIAN CONVOY--THE BRUNNERS AND THEIR HOME

CHAPTER XXI

MORAL DISCIPLINE--THE HISTORICAL PUEBLO OF SONOMA--SUGAR PLUMS

CHAPTER XXII

GOLD DISCOVERED--"CALIFORNIA IS OURS"--NURSING THE SICK--THE U.S.
MILITARY POST--BURIAL OF AN OFFICER

CHAPTER XXIII

REAPING AND THRESHING--A PIONEER FUNERAL--THE HOMELESS AND WAYFARING
APPEAL TO MRS. BRUNNER--RETURN OF THE MINERS--SOCIAL GATHERINGS--OUR
DAILY ROUTINE--STOLEN PLEASURES--A LITTLE DAIRYMAID--MY DOGSKIN SHOES

CHAPTER XXIV

MEXICAN METHODS OF CULTIVATION--FIRST STEAMSHIP THROUGH THE GOLDEN
GATE--"THE ARGONAUTS" OR "BOYS OF '49"--A LETTER FROM THE STATES--JOHN
BAPTISTE--JAKIE LEAVES US--THE FIRST AMERICAN SCHOOL IN SONOMA

CHAPTER XXV

FEVER PATIENTS FROM THE MINES--UNMARKED GRAVES--THE TALES AND TAUNTS
THAT WOUNDED MY YOUNG HEART

CHAPTER XXVI

THANK OFFERINGS--MISS DOTY'S SCHOOL--THE BOND OF KINDRED--IN JACKET AND
TROUSERS--CHUM CHARLIE

CHAPTER XXVII

CAPT. FRISBIE--WEDDING FESTIVITIES--THE MASTERPIECE OF GRANDMA'S
YOUTH--SENORA VALLEJO--JAKIE'S RETURN--HIS DEATH--A CHEROKEE INDIAN WHO
HAD STOOD BY MY FATHER'S GRAVE

CHAPTER XXVIII

ELITHA, FRANCES, AND MR. MILLER VISIT US--MRS. BRUNNER CLAIMS US AS HER
CHILDREN--THE DAGUERREOTYPE

CHAPTER XXIX

GREAT SMALLPOX EPIDEMIC--ST. MARY'S HALL--THANKSGIVING DAY IN
CALIFORNIA--ANOTHER BROTHER-IN-LAW

CHAPTER XXX

IDEALS AND LONGINGS--THE FUTURE--CHRISTMAS

CHAPTER XXXI

THE WIDOW STEIN AND LITTLE JOHNNIE--"DAUGHTERS OF A SAINTED
MOTHER"--ESTRANGEMENT AND DESOLATION--A RESOLUTION AND A VOW--MY PEOPLE
ARRIVE AND PLAN TO BEAR ME AWAY

CHAPTER XXXII

GRANDMA'S RETURN--GOOD-BYE TO THE DUMB CREATURES--GEORGIA AND I ARE OFF
FOR SACRAMENTO

CHAPTER XXXIII

THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS OF SACRAMENTO--A GLIMPSE OF GRANDPA--THE RANCHO DE
LOS CAZADORES--MY SWEETEST PRIVILEGE--LETTERS FROM THE BRUNNERS

CHAPTER XXXIV

TRAGEDY IN SONOMA--CHRISTIAN BRUNNER IN A PRISON CELL--ST. CATHERINE'S
CONVENT AT BENICIA--ROMANCE OF SPANISH CALIFORNIA--THE BEAUTIFUL ANGEL
IN BLACK--THE PRAYER OF DONA CONCEPCION ARGUELLO REALIZED--MONASTIC
RITES

CHAPTER XXXV

THE CHAMBERLAIN FAMILY, COUSINS OF DANIEL WEBSTER--JEFFERSON GRAMMAR
SCHOOL--FURTHER CONFLICTING ACCOUNTS OF THE DONNER PARTY--PATERNAL
ANCESTRY--S.O. HOUGHTON--DEATH TAKES ONE OF THE SEVEN SURVIVING DONNERS

CHAPTER XXXVI

NEWS OF THE BRUNNERS--LETTERS FROM GRANDPA

CHAPTER XXXVII

ARRIVAL OF THE FIRST PONY EXPRESS

CHAPTER XXXVIII

WAR AND RUMORS OF WAR--MARRIAGE--SONOMA REVISITED

APPENDIX

I

ARTICLES PUBLISHED IN _The California Star_--STATISTICS OF THE
PARTY--NOTES OF AGUILLA GLOVER--EXTRACT FROM THORNTON--RECOLLECTIONS OF
JOHN BAPTISTE TRUBODE

II

THE REED-GREENWOOD PARTY, OR SECOND RELIEF--REMINISCENCES OF WILLIAM G.
MURPHY--CONCERNING NICHOLAS CLARK AND JOHN BAPTISTE

III

THE REPORT OF THOMAS FALLON--DEDUCTIONS--STATEMENT OF EDWIN
BRYANT--PECULIAR CIRCUMSTANCES

IV

LEWIS KESEBERG

INDEX

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

S.O. Houghton
Eliza P. Donner Houghton
The Camp Attacked by Indians
Our Stealthy Foes
Governor L.W. Boggs
Corral Such as was Formed by Each Section for the Protection of its Cattle
Fort Laramie as it Appeared When Visited by the Donner Party
Chimney Rock
John Baptiste Trubode
Frances Donner (Mrs. Wm. R. Wilder)
Georgia Ann Donner (Mrs. W.A. Babcock)
March of the Caravan
United States Troops Crossing the Desert
Pass in the Sierra Nevadas of California
Camp at Donner Lake, November, 1846
Bear Valley, from Emigrant Gap
The Trackless Mountains
Sutter's Fort
Sam Brannan's Store at Sutter's Fort
Arrival of Relief Party, February 18, 1847
Donner Lake
Arrival of the Caravan at Santa Fe
On the Banks of the Sacramento River
Elitha Donner (Mrs. Benjamin Wilder)
Leanna Donner (Mrs. John App)
Mary Donner
George Donner, Nephew of Capt. Donner
Papooses in Bickooses
Sutter's Mill, Where Marshall Discovered Gold, January 19, 1848
Plaza and Barracks of Sonoma
One of the Oldest Buildings in Sonoma
Old Mexican Carreta
Residence of Judge A.L. Rhodes, a Typical California House of the
Better Class in 1849
Mission San Francisco Solano, Last of the Historic Missions
of California
Ruins of the Mission at Sonoma
Gold Rocker, Washing Pan, and Gold Borer
Scene During the Rush to the Gold Mines from San
Francisco, in 1848
Post Office, Corner of Clay and Pike Streets, San
Francisco 1849
Old City Hotel, 1846, Corner of Kearney and Clay Streets,
The First Hotel in San Francisco
Mrs. Brunner, Georgia and Eliza Donner
S.O. Houghton, Member of Col. J.D. Stevenson's First
Regiment of N.Y. Volunteers
Eliza P. Donner
Sacramento City in the Early Fifties
Front Street, Sacramento City, 1850
Pines of the Sierras
Col. J.D. Stevenson
General John A. Sutter
St. Catherine's Convent at Benicia, California
Chapel, St. Catherine's Convent
The Cross at Donner Lake
General Vallejo's Carriage, Built in England in 1832
General Vallejo's Old Jail
Alder Creek
Dennison's Exchange and the Parker House, San Francisco
View in the Grounds of the Houghton Home in San Jose
The Houghton Residence in San Jose, California

NOTE

I wish to express my appreciation of the courtesies and assistance
kindly extended me by the following, in the preparation of the
illustrations for this book: Mr. Lynwood Abbott, "Burr-McIntosh
Magazine," Mr. J.A. Munk, donor of the Munk Library of Arizoniana to
the Southwest Museum, Mr. Hector Alliot, Curator of the Southwest
Museum, the officers and attendants of the Los Angeles Public Library,
Miss Meta C. Stofen, City Librarian, Sonoma, Cal., Miss Elizabeth
Benton Fremont, Mr. C.M. Hunt, Editor "Grizzly Bear," the Dominican
Sisters of St. Catherine's Convent at Benicia, Cal., and Mrs. C.C.
Maynard.

E.P.D.H.

THE EXPEDITION OF THE DONNER PARTY

CHAPTER I

THE PACIFIC COAST IN 1845--SPEECHES OF SENATOR BENTON AND REPORT OF
CAPT. FREMONT--MY FATHER AND HIS FAMILY--INTEREST AWAKENED IN THE NEW
TERRITORY--FORMATION OF THE FIRST EMIGRANT PARTY FROM ILLINOIS TO
CALIFORNIA--PREPARATIONS FOR THE JOURNEY--THE START--ON THE OUTSKIRTS
OF CIVILIZATION.

Prior to the year 1845, that great domain lying west of the Rocky
Mountains and extending to the Pacific Ocean was practically unknown.
About that time, however, the spirit of inquiry was awakening. The
powerful voice of Senator Thomas H. Benton was heard, both in public
address and in the halls of Congress, calling attention to Oregon and
California. Captain John C. Fremont's famous topographical report and
maps had been accepted by Congress, and ten thousand copies ordered to
be printed and distributed to the people throughout the United States.
The commercial world was not slow to appreciate the value of those
distant and hitherto unfrequented harbors. Tales of the equable climate
and the marvellous fertility of the soil spread rapidly, and it
followed that before the close of 1845, pioneers on the western
frontier of our ever expanding republic were preparing to open a wagon
route to the Pacific coast.

After careful investigation and consideration, my father, George
Donner, and his elder brother, Jacob, decided to join the westward
migration, selecting California as their destination. My mother was in
accord with my father's wishes, and helped him to carry out his plan.

At this time he was sixty-two years of age, large, fine-looking, and in
perfect health. He was of German parentage, born of Revolutionary stock
just after the close of the war. The spirit of adventure, with which he
was strongly imbued, had led him in his youth from North Carolina, his
native State, to the land of Daniel Boone, thence to Indiana, to
Illinois, to Texas, and ultimately back to Illinois, while still in
manhood's prime.

By reason of his geniality and integrity, he was widely known as "Uncle
George" in Sangamon County, Illinois, where he had broken the virgin
soil two and a half miles from Springfield, when that place was a small
village. There he built a home, acquired wealth, and took an active
part in the development of the country round about.

Twice had he been married, and twice bereft by death when he met my
mother, Tamsen Eustis Dozier, then a widow, whom he married May 24,
1839. She was a native of Newburyport, Massachusetts. She was cultured,
and had been a successful teacher and writer. Their home became the
local literary centre after she was installed as its mistress.

My father had two sons and eight daughters when she became his wife;
but their immediate family circle consisted only of his aged parents,
and Elitha and Leanna, young daughters of his second marriage, until
July 8, 1840, when blue-eyed Frances Eustis was born to them. On the
fourth of December, 1841, brown-eyed Georgia Ann was added to the
number; and on the eighth of March, 1843, I came into this world.

I grew to be a healthy, self-reliant child, a staff to my sister
Georgia, who, on account of a painful accident and long illness during
her first year, did not learn to walk steadily until after I was strong
enough to help her to rise, and lead her to a sand pile near the
orchard, where we played away the bright days of two uneventful years.

With the approaching Winter of 1845 popular interest in the great
territory to the west of us spread to our community. Maps and reports
were eagerly studied. The few old letters which had been received from
traders and trappers along the Pacific coast were brought forth for
general perusal. The course of the reading society which met weekly at
our home was changed, in order that my mother might read to those
assembled the publications which had kindled in my father and uncle
the desire to migrate to the land so alluringly described. Prominent
among these works were "Travels Among the Rocky Mountains, Through
Oregon and California," by Lansford W. Hastings, and also the
"Topographical Report, with Maps Attached," by Captain Fremont, which
has been already mentioned.

_The Springfield Journal_, published by Mr. Allen Francis, appeared
with glowing editorials, strongly advocating emigration to the Pacific
coast, and its columns contained notices of companies forming in
Southern and Southwestern States, each striving to be ready to join the
"Great Overland Caravan," scheduled to leave Independence, Missouri,
for Oregon, early in May, 1846.

Mr. James F. Reed, a well-known resident of Springfield, was among
those who urged the formation of a company to go directly from Sangamon
County to California. Intense interest was manifested; and had it not
been for the widespread financial depression of that year, a large
number would have gone from that vicinity. The great cost of equipment,
however, kept back many who desired to make the long journey.

As it was, James F. Reed, his wife and four children, and Mrs. Keyes,
the mother of Mrs. Reed; Jacob Donner, his wife, and seven children;
and George Donner, his wife, and five children; also their teamsters
and camp assistants,--thirty-two persons all told,--constituted the
first emigrant party from Illinois to California. The plan was to join
the Oregon caravan at Independence, Missouri, continue with it to Fort
Hall, and thence follow Fremont's route to the Bay of San Francisco.

The preparations made for the journey by my parents were practical.
Strong, commodious emigrant wagons were constructed especially for the
purpose. The oxen to draw them were hardy, well trained, and rapid
walkers. Three extra yoke were provided for emergencies. Cows were
selected to furnish milk on the way. A few young beef cattle, five
saddle-horses, and a good watch-dog completed the list of live stock.

After carefully calculating the requisite amount of provisions, father
stored in his wagons a quantity that was deemed more than sufficient to
last until we should reach California. Seed and implements for use on
the prospective farms in the new country also constituted an important
part of our outfit. Nor was that all. There were bolts of cheap cotton
prints, red and yellow flannels, bright-bordered handkerchiefs, glass
beads, necklaces, chains, brass finger rings, earrings, pocket
looking-glasses and divers other knickknacks dear to the hearts of
aborigines. These were intended for distribution as peace offerings
among the Indians. Lastly, there were rich stores of laces, muslins,
silks, satins, velvets and like cherished fabrics, destined to be used
in exchange for Mexican land-grants in that far land to which we were
bound.

My mother was energetic in all these preparations, but her special
province was to make and otherwise get in readiness a bountiful supply
of clothing. She also superintended the purchase of materials for
women's handiwork, apparatus for preserving botanical specimens, water
colors and oil paints, books and school supplies; these latter being
selected for use in the young ladies' seminary which she hoped to
establish in California.

A liberal sum of money for meeting incidental expenses and replenishing
supplies on the journey, if need be, was stored in the compartments of
two wide buckskin girdles, to be worn in concealment about the person.
An additional sum of ten thousand dollars, cash, was stitched between
the folds of a quilt for safe transportation. This was a large amount
for those days, and few knew that my parents were carrying it with
them. I gained my information concerning it in later years from Mr.
Francis, to whom they showed it.

To each of his grown children my father deeded a fair share of his
landed estate, reserving one hundred and ten acres near the homestead
for us five younger children, who in course of time might choose to
return to our native State.

As time went on, our preparations were frequently interrupted by social
obligations, farewell visits, dinners, and other merrymakings with
friends and kindred far and near. Thursday, April 15, 1846, was the day
fixed for our departure, and the members of our household were at work
before the rosy dawn. We children were dressed early in our new linsey
travelling suits; and as the final packing progressed, we often peeped
out of the window at the three big white covered wagons that stood in
our yard.

In the first were stored the merchandise and articles not to be handled
until they should reach their destination; in the second, provisions,
clothing, camp tools, and other necessaries of camp life. The third was
our family home on wheels, with feed boxes attached to the back of the
wagon-bed for Fanny and Margaret, the favorite saddle-horses, which
were to be kept ever close at hand for emergencies.

Early in the day, the first two wagons started, each drawn by three
yoke of powerful oxen, whose great moist eyes looked as though they too
had parting tears to shed. The loose cattle quickly followed, but it
was well on toward noon before the family wagon was ready.

Then came a pause fraught with anguish to the dear ones gathered about
the homestead to say farewell. Each tried to be courageous, but not one
was so brave as father when he bade good-bye to his friends, to his
children, and to his children's children.

I sat beside my mother with my hand clasped in hers, as we slowly moved
away from that quaint old house on its grassy knoll, from the orchard,
the corn land, and the meadow; as we passed through the last pair of
bars, her clasp tightened, and I, glancing up, saw tears in her eyes
and sorrow in her face. I was grieved at her pain, and in sympathy
nestled closer to her side and sat so quiet that I soon fell asleep.
When I awoke, the sun still shone, but we had encamped for the night
on the ground where the State House of Illinois now stands.

Mr. Reed and family, and my uncle Jacob and family, with their
travelling equipments and cattle, were already settled there. Under
father's direction, our own encampment was soon accomplished. By
nightfall, the duties of the day were ended, and the members of our
party gathered around one fire to spend a social hour.

Presently, the clatter of galloping horses was heard, and shortly
thereafter eight horsemen alighted, and with merry greetings joined our
circle. They were part of the reading society, and had come to hold its
last reunion beside our first camp-fire. Mr. Francis was among them,
and took an inventory of the company's outfit for the benefit of the
readers of _The Springfield Journal_.

They piled more wood on the blazing fire, making it a beacon light to
those who were watching from afar; they sang songs, told tales, and for
the time being drove homesickness from our hearts. Then they rode away
in the moonlight, and our past was a sweet memory, our future a
beautiful dream.

William Donner, my half-brother, came to camp early next morning to
help us to get the cattle started, and to accompany us as far as the
outskirts of civilization.

We reached Independence, Missouri, on the eleventh of May, with our
wagons and cattle in prime condition, and our people in the best of
spirits. Our party encamped near that bustling frontier town, and were
soon a part of the busy crowds, making ready for the great prairie on
the morrow. Teams thronged the highways; troops of men, women, and
children hurried nervously about seeking information and replenishing
supplies. Jobbers on the street were crying their wares, anxious to
sell anything or everything required, from a shoestring to a complete
outfit for a four months' journey across the plains. Beads of sweat
clung to the merchants' faces as they rushed to and fro, filling
orders. Brawny blacksmiths, with breasts bared and sleeves rolled high,
hammered and twisted red hot metal into the divers forms necessary to
repair yokes and wagons.

Good fellowship prevailed as strangers met, each anxious to learn
something of those who might by chance become his neighbors in line.

Among the pleasant acquaintances made that day, was Mr. J.Q. Thornton,
a young attorney from Quincy, Illinois, who, with his invalid wife, was
emigrating to Oregon. He informed us that himself and wife and
ex-Governor Boggs and family, of Missouri, were hourly expecting
Alphonso Boone, grandson of Daniel Boone; and that as soon as Boone and
his family should arrive from Kentucky, they would all hasten on to
join Colonel Russell's California company, which was already on the
way, but had promised to await them somewhere on the Kansas River.

It was then believed that at least seven thousand emigrant wagons would
go West, through Independence, that season. Obviously the journey
should be made while pasturage and water continued plentiful along the
route. Our little party at once determined to overtake Colonel Russell
and apply for admission to his train, and for that purpose we resumed
travel early on the morning of May twelfth.

As we drove up Main Street, delayed emigrants waved us a light-hearted
good-bye, and as we approached the building of the American Tract
Society, its agent came to our wagons and put into the hand of each
child a New Testament, and gave to each adult a Bible, and also tracts
to distribute among the heathen in the benighted land to which we were
going. Near the outskirts of town we parted from William Donner, took a
last look at Independence, turned our backs to the morning sun, and
became pioneers indeed to the Far West.

[Illustration: THE CAMP ATTACKED BY INDIANS]

[Illustration: OUR STEALTHY FOES]

CHAPTER II

IN THE TERRITORY OF KANSAS--PRAIRIE SCHOONERS FROM SANTA FE TO
INDEPENDENCE, MO.--LIFE _en route_--THE BIG BLUE--CAMP GOVERNMENT--THE
_Blue Rover_.

During our first few days in the Territory of Kansas we passed over
good roads, and through fields of May blossoms musical with the hum of
bees and the songs of birds. Some of the party rode horseback; others
walked in advance of the train; but each father drove his own family
team. We little folk sat in the wagons with our dolls, watching the
huge white-covered "prairie schooners" coming from Santa Fe to
Independence for merchandise. We could hear them from afar, for the
great wagons were drawn by four or five span of travel-worn horses or
mules, and above the hames of each poor beast was an arch hung with
from three to five clear-toned bells, that jingled merrily as their
carriers moved along, guided by a happy-go-lucky driver, usually
singing or whistling a gleeful tune. Both man and beast looked
longingly toward the town, which promised companionship and revelry to
the one, and rest and fodder to the other.

We overtook similar wagons, heavily laden with goods bound for Santa
Fe. Most of the drivers were shrewd; all of them civil. They were of
various nationalities; some comfortably clad, others in tatters, and a
few in picturesque threadbare costumes of Spanish finery. Those hardy
wayfarers gave us much valuable information regarding the route before
us, and the Indian tribes we should encounter. We were now averaging a
distance of about two and a half miles an hour, and encamping nights
where fuel and water could be obtained.

Early on the nineteenth of May we reached Colonel Russel's camp on
Soldiers' Creek, a tributary of the Kansas River. The following account
of the meeting held by the company after our arrival is from the
journal of Mr. Edwin Bryant, author of "What I Saw in California":

May 19, 1846. A new census of our party was taken this morning; and
it was found to consist of 98 fighting men, 50 women, 46 wagons, and
350 cattle. Two divisions were made for convenience in travelling.
We were joined to-day by nine wagons from Illinois belonging to Mr.
Reed and Messrs. Donner, highly respectable and intelligent
gentlemen with interesting families. They were received into the
company by a unanimous vote.

Our cattle were allowed to rest that day; and while the men were
hunting and fishing, the women spread the family washings on the boughs
and bushes of that well-wooded stream. We children, who had been
confined to the wagon so many hours each day, stretched our limbs, and
scampered off on Mayday frolics. We waded the creek, made mud pies, and
gathered posies in the narrow glades between the cottonwood, beech, and
alder trees. Colonel Russell was courteous to all; visited the new
members, and secured their cheerful indorsement of his carefully
prepared plan of travel. He was at the head of a representative body of
pioneers, including lawyers, journalists, teachers, students, farmers,
and day-laborers, also a minister of the gospel, a carriage-maker, a
cabinet-maker, a stonemason, a jeweller, a blacksmith, and women versed
in all branches of woman's work.

The government of these emigrant trains was essentially democratic and
characteristically American. A captain was chosen, and all plans of
action and rules and regulations were proposed at a general assembly,
and accepted or rejected by majority vote. Consequently, Colonel
Russell's function was to preside over meetings, lead the train, locate
camping ground, select crossings over fordable streams, and direct the
construction of rafts and other expedients for transportation over deep
waters.

A trumpet call aroused the camp at dawn the following morning; by seven
o'clock breakfast had been cooked and served, and the company was in
marching order. The weather was fine, and we followed the trail of the
Kansas Indians, toward the Big Blue.

At nooning our teams stood in line on the road chewing the cud and
taking their breathing spell, while families lunched on the grass in
restful picnic style. Suddenly a gust of wind swept by; the sky turned
a greenish gray; black clouds drifted over the face of the sun; ominous
sounds came rumbling from distant hills, and before our effects could
be collected and returned to cover, a terrific thunderstorm was upon
us.

We were three hours' distance from our evening camp-ground and our
drivers had to walk and face that buffeting storm in order to keep
control of the nervous cattle. It was still raining when we reached the
knoll where we could spend the night. Our men were tired and drenched,
some of them cross; fires were out of the question until fuel could be
cut and brought from the edge of a swamp a mile from camp. When
brought, the green wood smoked so badly that suppers were late and
rather cheerless; still there was spirit enough left in those stalwart
hearts to start some mirth-provoking ditty, or indulge in good-natured
raillery over the joys and comforts of pioneering.

Indians had followed our train all day, and as we had been warned
against leaving temptation within reach, the cattle were corralled
early and their guards doubled. Happily, the night passed without alarm
or losses. The following day we were joined by ex-Governor Boggs and
companions, and lost Mr. Jordan and friends of Jackson, Missouri, who
drew their thirteen wagons out of line, saying that their force was
strong enough to travel alone, and that Captain Russell's company had
become too large for rapid or convenient handling.

We covered fourteen miles that day over a beautiful rolling prairie,
dotted with Indian lodges. Frequently their owners walked or rode
beside our wagons, asking for presents.

Mrs. Kehi-go-wa-chuck-ee was made happy by the gift of a dozen strings
of glass beads, and the chief also kindly accepted a few trinkets and a
contribution of tobacco, and provisions, after which he made the
company understand that for a consideration payable in cotton prints,
tobacco, salt pork, and flour, he himself and his trusted braves would
become escort to the train in order to protect its cattle from harm,
and its wagons from the pilfering hands of his tribesmen. His offer was
accepted, with the condition that he should not receive any of the
promised goods until the last wagon was safe beyond his territory. This
bargain was faithfully kept, and when we parted from the Indians, they
proceeded to immediate and hilarious enjoyment of the unwonted luxuries
thus earned.

We were now in line with spring storms, which made us victims of
frequent downpours and cyclonic winds. The roads were heavy, and the
banks of streams so steep that often the wagons had to be lowered by
aid of rope and chain. Fortunately our people were able to take these
trying situations philosophically, and were ever ready to enjoy the
novelties of intervening hours of calm and sunshine.

The staid and elderly matrons spent most of their time in their wagons,
knitting or patching designs for quilts. The younger ones and the girls
passed theirs in the saddle. They would scatter in groups over the
plains to investigate distant objects, then race back, and with song
and banter join husband and brother, driving the loose cattle in the
rear. The wild, free spirit of the plain often prompted them to invite
us little ones to seats behind them, and away we would canter with the
breeze playing through our hair and giving a ruddy glow to our cheeks.

Mr. Edwin Bryant, Mr. and Mrs. Thornton, and my mother were
enthusiastic searchers for botanical and geological specimens. They
delved into the ground, turning over stones and scraping out the
crevices, and zealously penetrated the woods to gather mosses, roots,
and flowering plants. Of the rare floral specimens and perishable
tints, my mother made pencil and water-color studies, having in view
the book she was preparing for publication.

On ascending the bluff overlooking the Big Blue, early on the afternoon
of the twenty-sixth of May, we found the river booming, and the water
still rising. Driftwood and good sized logs were floating by on a
current so strong that all hope of fording it vanished even before its
depth was measured. We encamped on the slope of the prairie, near a
timber of cottonwood, oak, beech, and sycamore trees, where a clear
brook rushed over its stony bed to join the Big Blue. Captain Russell,
with my father and other sub-leaders, examined the river banks for
marks of a ford.

By sunset the river had risen twenty inches and the water at the ford
was two hundred yards in width. A general meeting was called to discuss
the situation. Many insisted that the company, being comfortably
settled, should wait until the waters receded; but the majority
agreeing with the Captain, voted to construct a raft suitable to carry
everything except the live stock, which could be forced to swim.

The assembly was also called upon to settle a difference between two
members of our Oregon contingent, friendly intervention having induced
the disputants to suspend hostilities until their rights should be thus
determined. The assembly, however, instead of passing upon the matter,
appointed a committee to devise a way out of the difficulty. J.Q.
Thornton's work, "Oregon and California," has this reference to that
committee, whose work was significant as developed by later events:

Ex-Governor Boggs, Mr. James F. Reed, Mr. George Donner, and others,
myself included, convened in a tent according to appointment of a
general assembly of the emigrants, with the design of preparing a
system of laws for the purpose of preserving order, etc. We proposed
a few laws without, however, believing that they would possess much
authority. Provision was made for the appointment of a court of
arbitrators to hear and decide disputes, and to try offenders
against the peace and good order of the company.

The fiercest thunderstorm that we had yet experienced raged throughout
that night, and had we not been protected by the bluff on one side, and
the timber on the other, our tents would have been carried away by the
gale.

The Big Blue had become so turbulent that work on the prospective craft
was postponed, and our people proceeded to make the most of the
unexpected holiday. Messrs. Grayson and Branham found a bee tree, and
brought several buckets of delicious honey into camp. Mr. Bryant
gathered a quantity of wild peas, and distributed them among the
friends who had spices to turn them into sweet pickles.

The evening was devoted to friendly intercourse, and the camp was merry
with song and melodies dear to loved ones around the old hearthstones.

Meanwhile, Captain Russell had drawn a plan of the craft that should be
built, and had marked the cottonwood trees on the river bank, half a
mile above camp, that would furnish the necessary materials.

Bright and early the following morning, volunteer boat-builders went to
work with a will, and by the close of day had felled two trees about
three and a half feet in diameter, had hollowed out the trunks, and
made of them a pair of canoes twenty-five feet in length. In addition
to this, they had also prepared timbers for the frames to hold them
parallel, and insure the wagon wheels a steady place while being
ferried across the river.

The workers were well satisfied with their accomplishment. There was,
however, sorrow instead of rejoicing in camp, for Mrs. Reed's aged
mother, who had been failing for some days, died that night. At two
o'clock the next afternoon, she was buried at the foot of a monarch
oak, in a neat cottonwood coffin, made by men of the party, and her
grave was marked by a headstone.

[Illustration: GOVERNOR L.W. BOGGS]

[Illustration: CORRAL SUCH AS WAS FORMED BY EACH SECTION FOR THE
PROTECTION OF ITS CATTLE]

The craft being finished on the morning of the thirtieth of May, was
christened _Blue Rover_, and launched amid cheers of the company.
Though not a thing of beauty, she was destined to fulfil the
expectations of our worthy Captain. One set of guide-ropes held her in
place at the point of embarkation, while swimmers on horseback carried
another set of ropes across the river and quickly made them fast. Only
one wagon at a time could cross, and great difficulty was experienced
in getting the vehicles on and off the boat. Those working near the
bank stood in water up to their arm-pits, and frequently were in grave
peril. By the time the ninth wagon was safely landed, darkness fell.

The only unforeseen delay that had occurred was occasioned by an
awkward slip of the third wagon while being landed. The _Blue Rover_
groaned under the shock, leaned to one side and swamped one of the
canoes. However, the damage was slight and easily repaired. The next
day was Sunday; but the work had to go on, and the Rev. Mr. Cornwall
was as ready for it as the rest of the toilers.

Much anxiety was experienced when the cattle were forced into the
water, and they had a desperate struggle in crossing the current; but
they finally reached the opposite bank without accident. Each family
embarked in its own wagon, and the last was ferried over in the rain at
nine o'clock that night. The ropes were then detached from the _Blue
Rover_, and she drifted away in the darkness.

Captain Russell had despatched matters vigorously and tactfully, and
when the labors of that day were completed, still had a word of cheer
for the shivering, hungry travellers, whom he led into camp one mile
west of the memorable Big Blue. Despite stiff joints and severe colds,
all were anxious to resume travel at the usual hour next day, June the
first.

CHAPTER III

IN THE HAUNTS OF THE PAWNEES--LETTERS OF MRS. GEORGE DONNER--HALT AT
FORT BERNARD--SIOUX INDIANS AT FORT LARAMIE.

We were now near the haunts of the Pawnee Indians, reported to be
"vicious savages and daring thieves." Before us also stretched the
summer range of the antelope, deer, elk, and buffalo. The effort to
keep out of the way of the Pawnees, and the desire to catch sight of
the big game, urged us on at a good rate of speed, but not fast enough
to keep our belligerents on good behavior. Before night they had not
only renewed their former troubles, but come to blows, and insulted our
Captain, who had tried to separate them. How the company was relieved
of them is thus told in Mr. Bryant's Journal:

June 2, 1846, the two individuals at variance about their oxen and
wagon were emigrants to Oregon, and some eighteen or twenty wagons
now travelling with us were bound to the same place.

It was proposed in order to relieve ourselves from consequences of
dispute in which we had no interest, that all Oregon emigrants
should, in respectful manner and friendly spirit, be requested to
separate themselves from the California, and start on in advance of
us. The proposition was unanimously carried; and the spirit in which
it was made prevented any bad feeling which otherwise might have
resulted from it. The Oregon emigrants immediately drew their wagons
from the corrals and proceeded on their way.

The Oregon company was never so far in advance that we could not hear
from it, and on various occasions, some of its members sent to us for
medicines and other necessaries.

Our fear of the Pawnees diminished as we proceeded, and met in their
haunts only friendly Indians returning from the hunt, with ponies
heavily laden with packs of jerked meats and dried buffalo tongues. At
least one brave in each party could make himself understood by word or
sign. Many could pronounce the one word "hogmeat," and would show what
they had to exchange for the coveted luxury. Others also begged for
"tobac," and sugar, and generally got a little.

A surprising number of trappers and traders, returning to the United
States with their stocks of peltry, camped near us from time to time.
They were glad to exchange information, and kept us posted in regard to
the condition of the migrants, and the number of wagons on the road in
advance. These rough-looking fellows courteously offered to carry the
company's mail to the nearest post-office. Mr. Bryant and my mother
availed themselves of the kindness, and sent letters to the respective
journals of which they were correspondents.

Another means of keeping in touch with travelling parties in advance
was the accounts that were frequently found written on the bleaching
skulls of animals, or on trunks of trees from which the bark had been
stripped, or yet again, on pieces of paper stuck in the clefts of
sticks driven into the ground close to the trail. Thus each company
left greetings and words of cheer to those who were following. Lost
cattle were also advertised by that means, and many strays or
convalescents were found and driven forward to their owners.

Early June afforded rarest sport to lovers of the chase, and our
company was kept bountifully supplied with choicest cuts of antelope,
deer, and elk meat, also juicy buffalo steak. By the middle of the
month, however, our surroundings were less favorable. We entered a
region of oppressive heat. Clouds of dust enveloped the train. Wood
became scarce, and water had to be stored in casks and carried between
supply points. We passed many dead oxen, also a number of poor cripples
that had been abandoned by their unfeeling owners. Our people, heeding
these warnings, gave our cattle extra care, and lost but few.

Through the kindness of the Hon. Allen Francis, U.S. Consul at
Victoria, British Columbia, for a long term of years, and in his
earlier career editor of _The Springfield Journal_, I have in my
possession two letters written by my mother for this paper. They give a
glimpse of the party _en route_. The interval of time which elapsed
between the date of writing and that of publication indicates how much
faster our trapper letter-carriers must have travelled on horseback
than we had by ox train.

The following was published on the twenty-third of July:

NEAR THE JUNCTION OF THE NORTH AND SOUTH PLATTE, _June 16, 1846_

MY OLD FRIEND:

We are now on the Platte, two hundred miles from Fort Laramie. Our
journey so far has been pleasant, the roads have been good, and food
plentiful. The water for part of the way has been indifferent, but
at no time have our cattle suffered for it. Wood is now very scarce,
but "buffalo chips" are excellent; they kindle quickly and retain
heat surprisingly. We had this morning buffalo steaks broiled upon
them that had the same flavor they would have had upon hickory
coals.

We feel no fear of Indians, our cattle graze quietly around our
encampment unmolested.

Two or three men will go hunting twenty miles from camp; and last
night two of our men lay out in the wilderness rather than ride
their horses after a hard chase.

Indeed, if I do not experience something far worse than I have yet
done, I shall say the trouble is all in getting started. Our wagons
have not needed much repair, and I can not yet tell in what respects
they could be improved. Certain it is, they can not be too strong.
Our preparations for the journey might have been in some respects
bettered.

Bread has been the principal article of food in our camp. We laid in
150 pounds of flour and 75 pounds of meat for each individual, and I
fear bread will be scarce. Meat is abundant. Rice and beans are good
articles on the road; cornmeal, too, is acceptable. Linsey dresses
are the most suitable for children. Indeed, if I had one, it would
be acceptable. There is so cool a breeze at all times on the plains
that the sun does not feel so hot as one would suppose.

We are now four hundred and fifty miles from Independence. Our route
at first was rough, and through a timbered country, which appeared
to be fertile. After striking the prairie, we found a first-rate
road, and the only difficulty we have had, has been in crossing the
creeks. In that, however, there has been no danger.

I never could have believed we could have travelled so far with so
little difficulty. The prairie between the Blue and the Platte
rivers is beautiful beyond description. Never have I seen so varied
a country, so suitable for cultivation. Everything was new and
pleasing; the Indians frequently come to see us, and the chiefs of a
tribe breakfasted at our tent this morning. All are so friendly that
I can not help feeling sympathy and friendship for them. But on one
sheet what can I say?

Since we have been on the Platte, we have had the river on one side
and the ever varying mounds on the other, and have travelled through
the bottom lands from one to two miles wide, with little or no
timber. The soil is sandy, and last year, on account of the dry
season, the emigrants found grass here scarce. Our cattle are in
good order, and when proper care has been taken, none have been
lost. Our milch cows have been of great service, indeed. They have
been of more advantage than our meat. We have plenty of butter and
milk.

We are commanded by Captain Russell, an amiable man. George Donner
is himself yet. He crows in the morning and shouts out, "Chain up,
boys! chain up!" with as much authority as though he was "something
in particular." John Denton is still with us. We find him useful in
the camp. Hiram Miller and Noah James are in good health and doing
well. We have of the best people in our company, and some, too, that
are not so good.

Buffaloes show themselves frequently.

We have found the wild tulip, the primrose, the lupine, the eardrop,
the larkspur, and creeping hollyhock, and a beautiful flower
resembling the blossom of the beech tree, but in bunches as large as
a small sugar loaf, and of every variety of shade, to red and green.

I botanize and read some, but cook "heaps" more. There are four
hundred and twenty wagons, as far as we have heard, on the road
between here and Oregon and California.

Give our love to all inquiring friends. God bless them. Yours truly,

MRS. GEORGE DONNER.

The following extract is part of a letter which appeared in _The
Springfield Journal_ of July 30, 1846[1]:

SOUTH FORK OF THE NEBRASKA, TEN MILES FROM THE CROSSING,

_Tuesday, June 16, 1846_

DEAR FRIEND:

To-day, at nooning, there passed, going to the States, seven men
from Oregon, who went out last year. One of them was well acquainted
with Messrs. Ide and Cadden Keyes, the latter of whom, he says, went
to California. They met the advance Oregon caravan about 150 miles
west of Fort Laramie, and counted in all, for Oregon and California
(excepting ours), 478 wagons. There are in our company over 40
wagons, making 518 in all; and there are said to be yet 20 behind.
To-morrow we cross the river, and, by reckoning, will be over 200
miles from Fort Laramie, where we intend to stop and repair our
wagon wheels. They are nearly all loose, and I am afraid we will
have to stop sooner, if there can be found wood suitable to heat the
tires. There is no wood here, and our women and children are out now
gathering "buffalo chips" to burn, in order to do the cooking. These
chips burn well.

MRS. GEORGE DONNER.

On the eighteenth of June, Captain Russell, who had been stricken with
bilious fever, resigned his office of leader. My father and other
subordinate officers also resigned their positions. The assembly
tendered the retiring officials a vote of thanks for faithful service;
and by common consent, ex-Governor Boggs moved at the head of the train
and gave it his name.

[Illustration: FORT LARAMIE AS IT APPEARED WHEN VISITED BY THE DONNER
PARTY]

[Illustration: CHIMNEY ROCK]

We had expected to push on to Fort Laramie without stopping elsewhere,
but when we reached Fort Bernard, a small fur-trading post ten miles
east of Fort Laramie, we learned that the Sioux Indians were gathering
on Laramie Plain, preparing for war with the Crows, and their allies,
the Snakes; also that the emigrants already encamped there found
pasturage very short. Consequently, our train halted at this more
advantageous point, where our cattle could be sent in charge of herders
to browse along the Platte River, and where the necessary materials
could be obtained to repair the great damage which had been done to our
wagon wheels by the intense heat of the preceding weeks.

Meanwhile, Messrs. Russell and Bryant, with six young bachelor friends,
found an opportunity to finish their journey with pack animals. They
exchanged with traders from New Mexico their wagons and teams for the
requisite number of saddle-horses, mules, pack-saddles, and other
equipment, which would enable them to reach California a month earlier
than by wagon route.

Both parties broke camp at the same hour on the last day of June, they
taking the bridle trail to the right, and we turning to the left across
the ridge to Fort Laramie.

Not an emigrant tent was to be seen as we approached the fort, but
bands of horses were grazing on the plain, and Indians smeared with
war-paint, and armed with hunting knives, tomahawks, bows and arrows,
were moving about excitedly. They did not appear to notice us as we
drove to the entrance of the strongly fortified walls, surrounding the
buildings of the American Fur Company, yet by the time we were ready to
depart, large crowds were standing close to our wagons to receive the
presents which our people had to distribute among them. Many of the
squaws and papooses were gorgeous in white doe skin suits, gaudily
trimmed with beads, and bows of bright ribbons. They formed a striking
contrast to us, travel-stained wayfarers in linsey dresses and
sun-bonnets. Most of the white men connected with the fort had taken
Indian wives and many little children played around their doors.

Mr. Bourdeau, the general manager at the fort, explained to us that the
emigrants who had remained there up to the previous Saturday were on
that day advised by several of the Sioux chiefs, for whom he acted as
spokesman, "to resume their journey before the coming Tuesday, and to
unite in strong companies, because their people were in large force in
the hills, preparing to go out on the war-path in the country through
which the travellers had yet to pass; that they were not pleased with
the whites; that many of their warriors were cross and sulky in
anticipation of the work before them; and that any white persons found
outside the fort upon their arrival might be subject to robbery and
other bad treatment." This advice of the chiefs had awakened such fear
in the travellers that every camp-fire was deserted before sunrise the
ensuing morning. We, in turn, were filled with apprehension, and
immediately hurried onward in the ruts made by the fleeing wagons of
the previous day.

Before we got out of the country of the Sioux, we were overtaken by
about three hundred mounted warriors. They came in stately procession,
two abreast; rode on in advance of our train; halted, and opened ranks;
and as our wagons passed between their lines, the warriors took from
between their teeth, green twigs, and tossed them toward us in pledge
of friendship, then turned and as quietly and solemnly as they had come
to us, rode toward the hills. A great sigh of relief expressed the
company's satisfaction at being again alone; still no one could feel
sure that we should escape a night attack. Our trail led up into the
hills, and we travelled late into the night, and were again on the way
by morning starlight. We heard wolf yelps and owl hoots in the
distance, but were not approached by prowlers of any kind.

[Footnote 1: When Mr. Francis was appointed U.S. Consul by President
Lincoln, he stored his flies of _The Springfield, Illinois, Journal_,
and upon his return from Victoria, B.C., found the files almost
destroyed by attic rodents, and my mother's earlier contributions in
verse and prose, as well as her letters while _en route_ to California
were practically illegible.]

CHAPTER IV

FOURTH OF JULY IN AN EMIGRANT PARTY--OPEN LETTER OF LANSFORD
HASTINGS--GEORGE DONNER ELECTED CAPTAIN OF PARTY BOUND FOR
CALIFORNIA--ENTERING THE GREAT DESERT--INSUFFICIENT SUPPLY OF
FOOD--VOLUNTEERS COMMISSIONED BY MY FATHER TO HASTEN TO SUTTER'S FORT
FOR RELIEF.

On the second of July we met Mr. Bryant returning to prevail on some
man of our company to take the place of Mr. Kendall of the bridle
party, who had heard such evil reports of California from returning
trappers that his courage had failed, and he had deserted his
companions and joined the Oregon company. Hiram Miller, who had driven
one of my father's wagons from Springfield, took advantage of this
opportunity for a faster method of travel and left with Mr. Bryant.

The following evening we encamped near the re-enforced bridle party,
and on the morning of the Fourth Messrs. Russell and Bryant came over
to help us to celebrate our national holiday. A salute was fired at
sunrise, and later a platform of boxes was arranged in a grove close
by, and by half-past nine o'clock every one in camp was in holiday
attire, and ready to join the procession which marched around the camp
and to the adjacent grove. There, patriotic songs were sung, the
Declaration of Independence was read, and Colonel Russell delivered an
address. After enjoying a feast prepared by the women of the company,
and drinking to the health and happiness of friends and kindred in
reverent silence, with faces toward the east, our guests bade us a
final good-bye and godspeed.

We had on many occasions entertained eastward-bound rovers whose varied
experiences on the Pacific coast made them interesting talkers. Those
who favored California extolled its excellence, and had scant praise
for Oregon. Those who loved Oregon described its marvellous advantages
over California, and urged home-seekers to select it as the wiser
choice; consequently, as we neared the parting of the ways, some of our
people were in perplexity which to choose.

On the nineteenth of July we reached the Little Sandy River and there
found four distinct companies encamped in neighborly groups, among them
our friends, the Thorntons and Rev. Mr. Cornwall. Most of them were
listed for Oregon, and were resting their cattle preparatory to
entering upon the long, dry drive of forty miles, known as "Greenwood's
Cut-off."

There my father and others deliberated over a new route to California.

They were led to do so by "An Open Letter," which had been delivered to
our company on the seventeenth by special messenger on horseback. The
letter was written by Lansford W. Hastings, author of "Travel Among
the Rocky Mountains, Through Oregon and California." It was dated and
addressed, "At the Headwaters of the Sweetwater: To all California
Emigrants now on the Road," and intimated that, on account of war
between Mexico and the United States, the Government of California
would probably oppose the entrance of American emigrants to its
territory; and urged those on the way to California to concentrate
their numbers and strength, and to take the new and better route which
he had explored from Fort Bridger, by way of the south end of Salt
Lake. It emphasized the statement that this new route was nearly two
hundred miles shorter than the old one by way of Fort Hall and the
headwaters of Ogden's River, and that he himself would remain at Fort
Bridger to give further information, and to conduct the emigrants
through to the settlement.

The proposition seemed so feasible, that after cool deliberation and
discussion, a party was formed to take the new route.

My father was elected captain of this company, and from that time on it
was known as the "Donner Party." It included our original Sangamon
County folks (except Mrs. Keyes and Hiram Miller), and the following
additional members: Patrick Breen, wife, and seven children; Lewis
Keseberg, wife, and two children; Mrs. Lavina Murphy (a widow) and five
children; William Eddy, wife, and two children; William Pike, wife, and
two children; William Foster, wife, and child; William McCutchen, wife,
and child; Mr. Wolfinger and wife; Patrick Dolan, Charles Stanton,
Samuel Shoemaker, ---- Hardcoop, ---- Spitzer, Joseph Rhinehart, James
Smith, Walter Herron, and Luke Halloran.

While we were preparing to break camp, the last named had begged my
father for a place in our wagon. He was a stranger to our family,
afflicted with consumption, too ill to make the journey on horseback,
and the family with whom he had travelled thus far could no longer
accommodate him. His forlorn condition appealed to my parents and they
granted his request.

All the companies broke camp and left the Little Sandy on the twentieth
of July. The Oregon division with a section for California took the
right-hand trail for Fort Hall; and the Donner Party, the left-hand
trail to Fort Bridger.

After parting from us, Mr. Thornton made the following note in his
journal:

July 20, 1846. The Californians were much elated and in fine
spirits, with the prospect of better and nearer road to the country
of their destination. Mrs. George Donner, however, was an exception.
She was gloomy, sad, and dispirited in view of the fact that her
husband and others could think of leaving the old road, and confide
in the statement of a man of whom they knew nothing, but was
probably some selfish adventurer.

Five days later the Donner Party reached Fort Bridger, and were
informed by Hastings's agent that he had gone forward as pilot to a
large emigrant train, but had left instructions that all later arrivals
should follow his trail. Further, that they would find "an abundant
supply of wood, water, and pasturage along the whole line of road,
except one dry drive of thirty miles, or forty at most; that they would
have no difficult canons to pass; and that the road was generally
smooth, level, and hard."

At Fort Bridger, my father took as driver for one of his wagons, John
Baptiste Trubode, a sturdy young mountaineer, the offspring of a French
father--a trapper--and a Mexican mother. John claimed to have a
knowledge of the languages and customs of various Indian tribes through
whose country we should have to pass, and urged that this knowledge
might prove helpful to the company.

The trail from the fort was all that could be desired, and on the third
of August, we reached the crossing of Webber River, where it breaks
through the mountains into the canon. There we found a letter from
Hastings stuck in the cleft of a projecting stick near the roadside. It
advised all parties to encamp and await his return for the purpose of
showing them a better way than through the canon of Webber River,
stating that he had found the road over which he was then piloting a
train very bad, and feared other parties might not be able to get their
wagons through the canon leading to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.

[Illustration: JOHN BAPTISTE TRUBODE]

[Illustration: FRANCES DONNER (MRS. WM. R. WILDER)]

[Illustration: GEORGIA ANN DONNER (MRS. W.A. BABCOCK)]

He referred, however, to another route which he declared to be much
better, as it avoided the canon altogether. To prevent unnecessary
delays, Messrs. Reed, Pike, and Stanton volunteered to ride over the
new route, and, if advisable, bring Hastings back to conduct us to
the open valley. After eight days Mr. Reed returned alone, and reported
that he and his companions overtook Hastings with his train near the
south end of Salt Lake; that Hastings refused to leave his train, but
was finally induced to go with them to the summit of a ridge of the
Wahsatch Mountains and from there point out as best he could, the
directions to be followed.

While exploring on the way back, Mr. Reed had become separated from
Messrs. Pike and Stanton and now feared they might be lost. He himself
had located landmarks and blazed trees and felt confident that, by
making occasional short clearings, we could get our wagons over the new
route as outlined by Hastings. Searchers were sent ahead to look up the
missing men, and we immediately broke camp and resumed travel.

The following evening we were stopped by a thicket of quaking ash,
through which it required a full day's hard work to open a passageway.
Thence our course lay through a wilderness of rugged peaks and
rock-bound canons until a heavily obstructed gulch confronted us.
Believing that it would lead out to the Utah River Valley, our men
again took their tools and became roadmakers. They had toiled six days,
when W.F. Graves, wife, and eight children; J. Fosdick, wife, and
child, and John Snyder, with their teams and cattle, overtook and
joined our train. With the assistance of these three fresh men, the
road, eight miles in length, was completed two days later. It carried
us out into a pretty mountain dell, not the opening we had expected.

Fortunately, we here met the searchers returning with Messrs. Pike and
Stanton. The latter informed us that we must turn back over our newly
made road and cross a farther range of peaks in order to strike the
outlet to the valley. Sudden fear of being lost in the trackless
mountains almost precipitated a panic, and it was with difficulty that
my father and other cool-headed persons kept excited families from
scattering rashly into greater dangers.

We retraced our way, and after five days of alternate travelling and
road-making, ascended a mountain so steep that six and eight yoke of
oxen were required to draw each vehicle up the grade, and most careful
handling of the teams was necessary to keep the wagons from toppling
over as the straining cattle zigzaged to the summit. Fortunately, the
slope on the opposite side was gradual and the last wagon descended to
camp before darkness obscured the way.

The following morning, we crossed the river which flows from Utah Lake
to Great Salt Lake and found the trail of the Hastings party. We had
been thirty days in reaching that point, which we had hoped to make in
ten or twelve.

The tedious delays and high altitude wrought distressing changes in Mr.
Halloran's condition, and my father and mother watched over him with
increasing solicitude. But despite my mother's unwearying
ministrations, death came on the fourth of September.

Suitable timber for a coffin could not be obtained, so his body was
wrapped in sheets and carefully enclosed in a buffalo robe, then
reverently laid to rest in a grave on the shore of Great Salt Lake,
near that of a stranger, who had been buried by the Hastings party a
few weeks earlier.

Mr. Halloran had appreciated the tender care bestowed upon him by my
parents, and had told members of our company that in the event of his
death on the way, his trunk and its contents, and his horse and its
equipments should belong to Captain Donner. When the trunk was opened,
it was found to contain clothing, keepsakes, a Masonic emblem, and
fifteen hundred dollars in coin.

A new inventory, taken about this time, disclosed the fact that the
company's stock of supplies was insufficient to carry it through to
California. A call was made for volunteers who should hasten on
horseback to Sutter's Fort, procure supplies and, returning, meet the
train _en route_. Mr. Stanton, who was without family, and Mr.
McCutchen, whose wife and child were in the company, heroically
responded. They were furnished with necessaries for their personal
needs, and with letters to Captain Sutter, explaining the company's
situation, and petitioning for supplies which would enable it to reach
the settlement. As the two men rode away, many anxious eyes watched
them pass out of sight, and many heartfelt prayers were offered for
their personal safety, and the success of their mission.

In addressing this letter to Captain Sutter, my father followed the
general example of emigrants to California in those days, for Sutter,
great-hearted and generous, was the man to whom all turned in distress
or emergencies. He himself had emigrated to the United States at an
early age, and after a few years spent in St. Louis, Missouri, had
pushed his way westward to California.

There he negotiated with the Russian Government for its holdings on the
Pacific coast, and took them over when Russia evacuated the country. He
then established himself on the vast estates so acquired, which, in
memory of his parentage, he called New Helvetia. The Mexican
Government, however, soon assumed his liabilities to the Russian
Government, and exercised sovereignty over the territory. Sutter's
position, nevertheless, was practically that of a potentate. He
constructed the well-known fort near the present site of the city of
Sacramento, as protection against Indian depredations, and it became a
trading centre and rendezvous for incoming emigrants.

CHAPTER V

BEWILDERING GUIDE BOARD--SOUL-TRYING STRUGGLES--FIRST SNOW--REED-SNYDER
TRAGEDY--HARDCOOP'S FATE.

Our next memorable camp was in a fertile valley where we found twenty
natural wells, some very deep and full to the brim of pure, cold water.
"They varied from six inches to several feet in diameter, the soil
around the edges was dry and hard, and as fast as water was dipped out,
a new supply rose to the surface."[2] Grass was plentiful and wood
easily obtained. Our people made much of a brief stay, for though the
weather was a little sharp, the surroundings were restful. Then came a
long, dreary pull over a low range of hills, which brought us to
another beautiful valley where the pasturage was abundant, and more
wells marked the site of good camping grounds.

Close by the largest well stood a rueful spectacle,--a bewildering
guide board, flecked with bits of white paper, showing that the notice
or message which had recently been pasted and tacked thereon had since
been stripped off in irregular bits.

In surprise and consternation, the emigrants gazed at its blank face,
then toward the dreary waste beyond. Presently, my mother knelt before
it and began searching for fragments of paper, which she believed crows
had wantonly pecked off and dropped to the ground.

Spurred by her zeal, others also were soon on their knees, scratching
among the grasses and sifting the loose soil through their fingers.
What they found, they brought to her, and after the search ended she
took the guide board, laid it across her lap, and thoughtfully, began
fitting the ragged edges of paper together and matching the scraps to
marks on the board. The tedious process was watched with spell-bound
interest by the anxious group around her.

The writing was that of Hastings, and her patchwork brought out the
following words:

"2 days--2 nights--hard driving--cross--desert--reach water."

This would be a heavy strain on our cattle, and to fit them for the
ordeal they were granted thirty-six hours' indulgence near the bubbling
waters, amid good pasturage. Meanwhile, grass was cut and stored, water
casks were filled, and rations were prepared for desert use.

We left camp on the morning of September 9, following dimly marked
wagon-tracks courageously, and entered upon the "dry drive," which
Hastings and his agent at Fort Bridger had represented as being
thirty-five miles, or forty at most. After two days and two nights of
continuous travel, over a waste of alkali and sand, we were still
surrounded as far as eye could see by a region of fearful desolation.
The supply of feed for our cattle was gone, the water casks were empty,
and a pitiless sun was turning its burning rays upon the glaring earth
over which we still had to go.

Mr. Reed now rode ahead to prospect for water, while the rest followed
with the teams. All who could walk did so, mothers carrying their babes
in their arms, and fathers with weaklings across their shoulders moved
slowly as they urged the famishing cattle forward. Suddenly an outcry
of joy gave hope to those whose courage waned. A lake of shimmering
water appeared before us in the near distance, we could see the wavy
grasses and a caravan of people moving toward it.

"It may be Hastings!" was the eager shout. Alas, as we advanced, the
scene vanished! A cruel mirage, in its mysterious way, had outlined the
lake and cast our shadows near its shore.

Disappointment intensified our burning thirst, and my good mother gave
her own and other suffering children wee lumps of sugar, moistened with
a drop of peppermint, and later put a flattened bullet in each child's
mouth to engage its attention and help keep the salivary glands in
action.

Then followed soul-trying hours. Oxen, footsore and weary, stumbled
under their yokes. Women, heartsick and exhausted, could walk no
farther. As a last resort, the men hung the water pails on their arms,
unhooked the oxen from the wagons, and by persuasion and force, drove
them onward, leaving the women and children to await their return.
Messrs. Eddy and Graves got their animals to water on the night of the
twelfth, and the others later. As soon as the poor beasts were
refreshed, they were brought back with water for the suffering, and
also that they might draw the wagons on to camp. My father's wagons
were the last taken out. They reached camp the morning of the
fifteenth.

Thirty-six head of cattle were left on that desert, some dead, some
lost. Among the lost were all Mr. Reed's herd, except an ox and a cow.
His poor beasts had become frenzied in the night, as they were being
driven toward water, and with the strength that comes with madness, had
rushed away in the darkness. Meanwhile, Mr. Reed, unconscious of his
misfortune, was returning to his family, which he found by his wagon,
some distance in the rear. At daylight, he, with his wife and children,
on foot, overtook my Uncle Jacob's wagons and were carried forward in
them until their own were brought up.

After hurriedly making camp, all the men turned out to hunt the Reed
cattle. In every direction they searched, but found no clue. Those who
rode onward, however, discovered that we had reached only an oasis in
the desert, and that six miles ahead of us lay another pitiless barren
stretch.

Anguish and dismay now filled all hearts. Husbands bowed their heads,
appalled at the situation of their families. Some cursed Hastings for
the false statements in his open letter and for his broken pledge at
Fort Bridger. They cursed him also for his misrepresentation of the
distance across this cruel desert, traversing which had wrought such
suffering and loss. Mothers in tearless agony clasped their children to
their bosoms, with the old, old cry, "Father, Thy will, not mine, be
done."

It was plain that, try as we might, we could not get back to Fort
Bridger. We must proceed regardless of the fearful outlook.

After earnest consultation, it was deemed best to dig a trench and
cache all Mr. Reed's effects, except such as could be packed into one
wagon, and were essential for daily use. This accomplished, Messrs.
Graves and Breen each loaned him an ox, and these in addition to his
own ox and cow yoked together, formed his team. Upon examination, it
was found that the woodwork of all the wagons had been shrunk and
cracked by the dry atmosphere. One of Mr. Keseberg's and one of my
father's were in such bad condition that they were abandoned, left
standing near those of Mr. Reed, as we passed out of camp.

The first snow of the season fell as we were crossing the narrow strip
of land upon which we had rested and when we encamped for the night on
its boundary, the waste before us was as cheerless, cold, and white as
the winding sheet which enfolds the dead.

At dawn we resumed our toilful march, and travelled until four o'clock
the following morning, when we reached an extensive valley, where
grass and water were plentiful. Several oxen had died during the night,
and it was with a caress of pity that the surviving were relieved of
their yokes for the day. The next sunrise saw us on our way over a
range of hills sloping down to a valley luxuriant with grass and
springs of delicious water, where antelope and mountain sheep were
grazing, and where we saw Indians who seemed never to have met white
men before. We were three days in crossing this magnificent stretch of
country, which we called, "Valley of Fifty Springs." In it, several
wagons and large cases of goods were cached by our company, and secret
marks were put on trees near by, so that they could be recovered,
should their owners return for them.

While on the desert, my father's wagons had travelled last in the
train, in order that no one should stray, or be left to die alone. But
as soon as we reached the mountainous country, he took the lead to open
the way. Uncle Jacob's wagons were always close to ours, for the two
brothers worked together, one responding when the other called for
help; and with the assistance of their teamsters, they were able to
free the trail of many obstructions and prevent unnecessary delays.

From the Valley of Fifty Springs, we pursued a southerly course over
more hills, and through fertile valleys, where we saw Indians in a
state of nudity, who looked at us from a distance, but never approached
our wagons, nor molested any one. On the twenty-fourth of September,
we turned due north and found the tracks of wagon wheels, which guided
us to the valley of "Mary's River," or "Ogden's River," and on the
thirtieth, put us on the old emigrant road leading from Fort Hall. This
welcome landmark inspired us with renewed trust; and the energizing
hope that Stanton and McCutchen would soon appear, strengthened our
sorely tried courage. This day was also memorable, because it brought
us a number of Indians who must have been Fremont's guides, for they
could give information, and understand a little English. They went into
camp with us, and by word and sign explained that we were still far
from the sink of Mary's River, but on the right trail to it.

After another long day's drive, we stopped on a mountain-side close to
a spring of cold, sweet water. While supper was being prepared, one of
the fires crept beyond bounds, spread rapidly, and threatened
destruction to part of our train. At the critical moment two strange
Indians rushed upon the scene and rendered good service. After the fire
was extinguished, the Indians were rewarded, and were also given a
generous meal at the tent of Mr. Graves. Later, they settled themselves
in friendly fashion beside his fire and were soon fast asleep. Next
morning, the Indians were gone, and had taken with them a new shirt and
a yoke of good oxen belonging to their host.

Within the week, Indians again sneaked up to camp, and stole one of Mr.
Graves's saddle-horses. These were trials which made men swear
vengeance, yet no one felt that it would be safe to follow the
marauders. Who could know that the train was not being stealthily
followed by cunning plunderers who would await their chance to get away
with the wagons, if left weakly guarded?

Conditions now were such that it seemed best to divide the train into
sections and put each section under a sub-leader. Our men were well
equipped with side arms, rifles, and ammunition; nevertheless, anxious
moments were common, as the wagons moved slowly and singly through
dense thickets, narrow defiles, and rugged mountain gorges, one section
often being out of sight of the others, and each man realizing that
there could be no concerted action in the event of a general attack;
that each must stay by his own wagon and defend as best he could the
lives committed to his care. No one rode horseback now, except the
leaders, and those in charge of the loose cattle. When darkness
obscured the way, and after feeding-time, each section formed its
wagons into a circle to serve as cattle corral, and night watches were
keenly alert to give a still alarm if anything unusual came within
sight or sound.

Day after day, from dawn to twilight, we moved onward, never stopping,
except to give the oxen the necessary nooning, or to give them drink
when water was available. Gradually, the distance between sections
lengthened, and so it happened that the wagons of my father and my
uncle were two days in advance of the others, on the eighth of October,
when Mr. Reed, on horseback, overtook us. He was haggard and in great
tribulation. His lips quivered as he gave substantially the following
account of circumstances which had made him the slayer of his friend,
and a lone wanderer in the wilderness.

On the morning of October 5, when Mr. Reed's section broke camp, he and
Mr. Eddy ventured off to hunt antelope, and were shot at a number of
times by Indians with bows and arrows. Empty-handed and disappointed,
the two followed and overtook their companions about noon, at the foot
of a steep hill near "Gravelly Ford," where the teams had to be doubled
for the ascent. All the wagons, except Pike's and Reed's, and one of
Graves's in charge of John Snyder, had already been taken to the top.
Snyder was in the act of starting his team, when Milton Elliot, driving
Reed's oxen, with Eddy's in the lead, also started. Suddenly, the Reed
and Eddy cattle became unmanageable, and in some way got mixed up with
Snyder's team. This provoked both drivers, and fierce words passed
between them. Snyder declared that the Reed team ought to be made to
drag its wagon up without help. Then he began to beat his own cattle
about the head to get them out of the way.

Mr. Reed attempted to remonstrate with him for his cruelty, at which
Snyder became more enraged, and threatened to strike both Reed and
Elliot with his whip for interfering. Mr. Reed replied sharply that
they would settle the matter later. This, Synder took as a threat, and
retorted, "No, we'll settle it right here," and struck Reed over the
head with the butt end of his whip, cutting an ugly scalp wound.

Mrs. Reed, who rushed between the two men for the purpose of separating
them, caught the force of the second blow from Snyder's whip on her
shoulder. While dodging the third blow, Reed drew his hunting knife and
stabbed Snyder in the left breast. Fifteen minutes later, John Snyder,
with his head resting on the arm of William Graves, died, and Mr. Reed
stood beside the corpse, dazed and sorrowful.

Near-by sections were immediately called into camp, and gloom,
consternation, and anger pervaded it. Mr. Reed and family were taken to
their tent some distance from the others and guarded by their friends.
Later, an assembly was convened to decide what should be done. The
majority declared the deed murder, and demanded retribution. Mr. Eddy
and others pleaded extenuating circumstances and proposed that the
accused should leave the camp. After heated discussion this compromise
was adopted, the assembly voting that Mr. Reed should be banished from
the company.

Mr. Reed maintained that the deed was not prompted by malice, that he
had acted in self-defence and in defence of his wife; and that he would
not be driven from his helpless, dependent family. The assembly
promised that the company would care for his family, and limited his
stay in camp. His wife, fearing the consequence of noncompliance with
the sentence, begged him to abide by it, and to push on to the
settlement, procure food and assistance, and return for her and their
children. The following morning, after participating in the funeral
rites over the lamented dead, Mr. Reed took leave of his friends and
sorrowing family and left the camp.

The group around my father's wagon were deeply touched by Mr. Reed's
narrative. Its members were friends of the slain and of the slayer.
Their sympathies clustered around the memory of the dead, and clung to
the living. They deplored the death of a fellow traveller, who had
manfully faced many hardships, and was young, genial, and full of
promise. They regretted the act which took from the company a member
who had been prominent in its organization, had helped to formulate its
rules, and had, up to that unfortunate hour, been a co-worker with the
other leading spirits for its best interests. It was plain that the
hardships and misfortunes of the journey had sharpened the tempers of
both men, and the vexations of the morning had been too much for the
overstrained nerves.

Mr. Reed breakfasted at our tent, but did not continue his journey
alone. Walter Herron, one of my father's helpers, decided to accompany
him, and after hurried preparations, they went away together, bearing
an urgent appeal from my father to Captain Sutter for necessary teams
and provisions to carry the company through to California, also his
personal pledge in writing that he would be responsible for the payment
of the debt as soon as he should reach the settlement. My father
believed the two men would reach their destination long before the
slowly moving train.

Immediately after the departure of Messrs. Reed and Herron, our wagons
moved onward. Night overtook us at a gruesome place where wood and feed
were scarce and every drop of water was browned by alkali. There,
hungry wolves howled, and there we found and buried the bleaching bones
of Mr. Salle, a member of the Hastings train, who had been shot by
Indians. After his companions had left his grave, the savages had
returned, dug up the body, robbed it of its clothing, and left it to
the wolves.

At four o'clock the following morning, October 10, the rest of the
company, having travelled all night, drove into camp. Many were in a
state of great excitement, and some almost frenzied by the physical and
mental suffering they had endured. Accounts of the Reed-Snyder tragedy
differed somewhat from that we had already heard. The majority held
that the assembly had been lenient with Mr. Reed and considerate for
his family; that the action taken had been largely influenced by rules
which Messrs. Reed, Donner, Thornton, and others had suggested for the
government of Colonel Russell's train, and that there was no occasion
for criticism, since the sentence was for the transgression, and not
for the individual.

The loss of aged Mr. Hardcoop, whose fate was sealed soon after the
death of John Synder, was the subject of bitter contention. The old man
was travelling with the Keseberg family, and, in the heavy sand, when
that family walked to lighten the load, he was required to do likewise.
The first night after leaving Gravelly Ford, he did not come into camp
with the rest. The company, fearing something amiss, sent a man on
horseback to bring him in. He was found five miles from camp,
completely exhausted and his feet in a terrible condition.

The following morning, he again started with Keseberg, and when the
section had been under way only a short time, the old man approached
Mr. Eddy and begged for a place in some other wagon, saying he was sick
and exhausted, and that Keseberg had put him out to die. The road was
still through deep, loose sand, and Mr. Eddy told him if he would only
manage to go forward until the road should be easier on the oxen, he
himself would take him in. Hardcoop promised to try, yet the roads
became so heavy that progress was yet slower and even the small
children were forced to walk, nor did any one see when Mr. Hardcoop
dropped behind.

Mr. Eddy had the first watch that night, and kept a bright fire burning
on the hillside in hopes that it would guide the belated into camp.
Milton Elliot went on guard at midnight, and kept the fire till
morning, yet neither sign nor sound of the missing came over that
desolate trail.

In vain the watchers now besought Keseberg to return for Hardcoop. Next
they applied to Messrs. Graves and Breen, who alone had saddle horses
able to carry the helpless man, but neither of them would risk his
animals again on that perilous road. In desperation, Messrs. William
Pike, Milton Elliot, and William Eddy proposed to go out afoot and
carry him in, if the wagons would wait. Messrs. Graves and Breen,
however, in language so plain and homely that it seemed heartless,
declared that it was neither the voice of common sense, nor of humanity
that asked the wagons to wait there in the face of danger, while three
foolhardy men rushed back to look for a helpless one, whom they had
been unable to succor on the previous day, and for whom they could make
no provision in the future, even if they should succeed then in
snatching him from the jaws of death.

This exposition of undeniable facts defeated the plans of the would-be
rescuers, yet did not quiet their consciences. When the section halted
at noon, they again begged, though in vain, for horses which might
enable them to do something for their deserted companion.

My father listened thoughtfully to the accounts of that harrowing
incident, and although he realized that death must have ended the old
man's sufferings within a few hours after he dropped by the wayside, he
could not but feel deeply the bitterness of such a fate.

Who could peer into the near future and read between its lines the
greater suffering which Mr. Hardcoop had escaped, or the trials in
store for us?

We were in close range of ambushed savages, lying in wait for spoils.
While the company were hurrying to get into marching order, Indians
stole a milch cow and several horses belonging to Mr. Graves.
Emboldened by success, they made a raid on our next camp and stampeded
a bunch of eighteen horned cattle belonging to Mr. Wolfinger and my
father and Uncle Jacob, and also flesh-wounded several poor beasts with
arrows. These were more serious hindrances than we had yet experienced.
Still, undaunted by the alarming prospects before us, we immediately
resumed travel with cows under yoke in place of the freshly injured
oxen.

[Footnote 2: Thornton.]

CHAPTER VI

INDIAN DEPREDATIONS--WOLFINGER'S DISAPPEARANCE--STANTON RETURNS WITH
SUPPLIES FURNISHED BY CAPTAIN SUTTER--DONNER WAGONS SEPARATED FROM
TRAIN FOREVER--TERRIBLE PIECE OF NEWS--FORCED INTO SHELTER AT DONNER
LAKE--DONNER CAMP ON PROSSER CREEK.

All who managed to get beyond the sink of Ogden's River before midnight
of October 12, reached Geyser Springs without further molestation, but
the belated, who encamped at the sink were surprised at daylight by the
Indians, who, while the herders were hurriedly taking a cup of coffee,
swooped down and killed twenty-one head of cattle. Among the number
were all of Mr. Eddy's stock, except an ox and a cow that would not
work together. Maddened by his appalling situation, Eddy called for
vengeance on his despoilers, and would have rushed to certain death, if
the breaking of the lock of his rifle at the start had not stopped him.

Sullen and dejected, he cached the contents of his wagons, and with
a meagre supply of food in a pack on his back, he and his wife, each
carrying a child, set forth to finish the journey on foot. To add to
their discomfort, they saw Indians on adjacent hills dancing and
gesticulating in savage delight. In relating the above occurrence
after the journey was finished, Mr. Eddy declared that no language
could portray the desolation and heartsick feeling, nor the physical
and mental torture which he and his wife experienced while
travelling between the sink of Ogden's River and the Geyser
Springs.[3]

It was during that trying week that Mr. Wolfinger mysteriously
disappeared. At the time, he and Keseberg, with their wagons, were at
the rear of the train, and their wives were walking in advance with
other members of the company. When camp was made, those two wagons were
not in sight, and after dark the alarmed wives prevailed on friends to
go in search of their missing husbands. The searchers shortly found
Keseberg leisurely driving toward camp. He assured them that Wolfinger
was not far behind him, so they returned without further search.

All night the frantic wife listened for the sound of the coming of her
husband, and so poignant was her grief that at break of day, William
Graves, Jr., and two companions went again in search of Mr. Wolfinger.
Five or six miles from camp, they came upon his tenantless wagon, with
the oxen unhooked and feeding on the trail near-by. Nothing in the
wagon had been disturbed, nor did they find any sign of struggle, or of
Indians. After a diligent search for the missing man, his wagon and
team was brought to camp and restored to Mrs. Wolfinger, and she was
permitted to believe that her husband had been murdered by Indians and
his body carried off. Nevertheless, some suspected Keseberg of having
had a hand in his disappearance, as he knew that Mr. Wolfinger carried
a large sum of money on his person.

Three days later Rhinehart and Spitzer, who had not been missed, came
into camp, and Mrs. Wolfinger was startled to recognize her husband's
gun in their possession. They explained that they were in the wagon
with Mr. Wolfinger when the Indians rushed upon them, drove them off,
killed Wolfinger and burned the wagon. My father made a note of this
conflicting statement to help future investigation of the case.

At Geyser Springs, the company cached valuable goods, among them
several large cases of books and other heavy articles belonging to my
father. As will be seen later, the load in our family wagon thus
lightened through pity for our oxen, also lessened the severity of an
accident which otherwise might have been fatal to Georgia and me.

On the nineteenth of October, near the present site of Wadsworth,
Nevada, we met Mr. Stanton returning from Sutter's Fort with two Indian
herders driving seven mules, laden with flour and jerked beef. Their
arrival was hailed with great joy, and after a brief consultation with
my father, Stanton and his Indians continued toward the rear, in order
to distribute first to those most in need of provisions, also that the
pack animals might be the sooner set apart to the use of those whose
teams had given out, or had been destroyed by Indians.

[Illustration: MARCH OF THE CARAVAN]

[Illustration: UNITED STATES TROOPS CROSSING THE DESERT]

Mr. Stanton had left Mr. McCutchen sick at Sutter's Fort. He brought
information also concerning Messrs. Reed and Herron, whom he had met
in the Sacramento valley. At the time of meeting, they were quite a
distance from the settlement, had been without food three days, and Mr.
Reed's horse was completely worn out. Mr. Stanton had furnished Mr.
Reed with a fresh mount, and provisions enough to carry both men to
Sutter's Fort.

In camp that night, Mr. Stanton outlined our course to the settlement,
and in compliance with my father's earnest wish, consented to lead the
train across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Frost in the air and snow on
the distant peaks warned us against delays; yet, notwithstanding the
need of haste, we were obliged to rest our jaded teams. Three yoke of
oxen had died from exhaustion within a week, and several of those
remaining were not in condition to ascend the heavy grades before them.

On the twentieth, Mr. Pike met death in his own tent by the accidental
discharge of a six-shooter in the hands of Mr. Foster, his
brother-in-law. He left a young wife, and two small children, Naomi,
three years of age, and Catherine, a babe in arms. His loss was keenly
felt by the company, for he was highly esteemed.

We broke camp on the twenty-second, and my father and uncle took our
wagons to the rear of the train in order to favor our cattle, and also
to be near families whose teams might need help in getting up the
mountains. That day we crossed the Truckee River for the forty-ninth
and last time in eighty miles, and encamped for the night at the top
of a high hill, where we received our last experience of Indian
cruelty. The perpetrator was concealed behind a willow, and with savage
vim and well trained hand, sent nineteen arrows whizzing through the
air, and each arrow struck a different ox. Mr. Eddy caught him in the
act; and as he turned to flee, the white man's rifle ball struck him
between the shoulders and pierced his body. With a spring into the air
and an agonizing shriek, he dropped lifeless into the bushes below.
Strange, but true, not an ox was seriously hurt!

The train took the trail early next morning, expecting to cross the
summit of the Sierras and reach California in less than two weeks.

The following circumstances, which parted us forever from the train
which father had led through so many difficulties, were told me by my
sister, Mrs. Elitha C. Wilder, now of Bruceville, California:

Our five Donner wagons, and Mrs. Wolfinger's wagon, were a day or
more behind the train, and between twelve and sixteen miles from the
spot where we later made our winter camp, when an accident happened
which nearly cost us your life, and indirectly prevented our
rejoining the train. Your mother and Frances were walking on ahead;
you and Georgia were asleep in the wagon; and father was walking
beside it, down a steep hill. It had almost reached the base of the
incline when the axle to the fore wheels broke, and the wagon tipped
over on the side, tumbling its contents upon you two children.
Father and uncle, in great alarm, rushed to your rescue. Georgia was
soon hauled out safely through the opening in the back of the wagon
sheets, but you were nowhere in sight, and father was sure you were
smothering because you did not answer his call. They worked
breathlessly getting things out, and finally uncle came to your limp
form. You could not have lasted much longer, they said. How
thankful we all were that our heaviest boxes had been cached at
Geyser Springs!

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