Sunday, June 07, 2015

The Donner Expedition - 1846 to 1847.

There are a few great events in Northern California history that form our identity, at least for those who have been here more than a few years.  The Gold Rush is one.  Then there were Zoro and Dirty Harry.  But the one that really stands out is the Donner Expedition where 87 immigrants were stranded near the present town of Truckee, California and next to what is now Donner Lake.  Heavy snows came early that year, burying the trail and making it impossible to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains in their weakened state.  I know roughly of the story from the plaque that is stationed there.  These days Intestate 80 makes travel over the pass a two hour journey, but it still shuts down for heavy snows and I have a 4-wheel drive because I really don't like dealing with putting chains on and off the car.

The version of this that I am listening to is "The Expedition of the Donner Party and its Tragic Fate", by Eliza P. Donner, who survived this trip as a 3 year old girl.  She had few memories herself, but compiled her work from notes of others and the memories of her sisters.  Of the original 87, only 48 survived.  The problems began in Wyoming when an adventurer promised a shortcut to California, and the group succumbed to the temptation.  This resulted in much wasted energy and time crossing the Wasatch mountains in Utah, followed by a terrible ordeal crossing the basin of the Salt Lake.  The group distrusted each other, spread out, and made themselves a tempting target for Indians.  The situation was already terrible before they reached their winter camp.  The starving time soon set in, and a few were reduced to cannibalism to survive.


Inklings said...

The group was right to distrust each other!

Looney said...

You are familiar with this story? It does seem that they were rather treacherous towards one another as time went on, which didn't help their situation.

Max Coutinho said...

Hi Looney,

Despite having the same goal, same interests, they didn't unite and suffered the consequences. Doesn't it sound all too familiar? We have abundant examples of that throughout history. Humans never learn.

When I started reading this post, all I thought about was the immigration problem in the US today: your country is more exposed to infiltration from the enemy today than a decade ago. Looking at it now, I'd say Mexicans and Colombians are the least of America's problems (mind you, illegal immigration is not condoned by me, au contraire; but when we look at the type of today's "immigrants" coming from Mexico...we have to wonder).


Looney said...

Hello Max,

There is certainly the sin nature of man, which causes us to do horrible things to one another, and ourselves.

When I wrote the post, I had only gotten a third of the way into the book. Eliza goes on to tell her story of being a little orphan during the gold rush, with the confusion of displaced peoples of various nationalities all conglomerated together.

I agree with you that California's open border policy allows for people with nefarious motives to sneak in, but I am not authorized to make a determination regarding who might be termed an "enemy", and would be loath to do so lest I accidentally commit a hate crime!

Max Coutinho said...


"but I am not authorized to make a determination regarding who might be termed an "enemy", and would be loath to do so lest I accidentally commit a hate crime!"

LOL LOL got it. :)