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This is the first word to reach San Francisco of the great human disaster later known as the Donner Party. It was published in the “California Star” shortly after a rescue party left Sutter’s Fort to search for survivors in the Sierra.

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Early History of California

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“Ranch and Mission Days in Alta California,” by Guadalupe Vallejo

“Life in California Before the Gold Discovery,” by John Bidwell

William T. Sherman and Early Calif. History

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California Gold Rush Chronology 1846 - 1849

California Gold Rush Chronology 1850 - 1851

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California Gold Rush Chronology 1855 - 1856

California Gold Rush Chronology 1857 - 1861

California Gold Rush Chronology 1862 - 1865

An Eyewitness to the Gold Discovery

Military Governor Mason’s Report on the Discovery of Gold

A Rush to the Gold Washings — From the California Star

The Discovery — as Viewed in New York and London

Steamer Day in the 1850s

Sam Brannan Opens New Bank - 1857

Distressing News.

by Capt. J.A. Sutter’s launch which arrived here a few days since from Fort Sacramento— we received a letter from a friend at that place, containing a most distressing account of the situation of the emigrants in the mountains, who were prevented from crossing them by the snow,— and of a party of eleven who attempted to come into the valley on foot. The writer, who is well qualified to judge, is of the opinion that the whole party might have reached the California valley before the first fall of snow, if the men had exerted themselves as they should have done. Nothing but a contrary and contentious disposition on the part of some of the men belonging to the party prevented them from getting in as soon as any of the first companies.

The follow particulars we extracted from the letter:

The company is composed of twenty three waggons, and is a part of Col. Russell’s company, that left the rendezvous on Indian Creek near the Missouri line on the 13th day of May last. They arrived at Fort Bridger in good time, some two weeks earlier than the last company on the road. From that point they took the new road by the south end of the Great Salt Lake, which was then being marked out by some seventy five waggons with Messrs. Hastings and Headspath as pilots.

They followed on in the train until they were near the “Weber River canion,” and within some 4 or 5 days travel of the leading waggons, when they stopped and sent on three men, (Messrs. Reed, Stanton and Pike) to the first company, (with which I was then travelling in company,) to request Mr. Hastings to go back and show them the pack trail from the Red Fork of Weber River to the Lake. Mr. H. went back and showed them the trail, and then returned to our company, all of which time we remained in camp, waiting for Mr. Hastings to show us the rout.

They then commenced making the new road over the Lake on the pack trail, so as to avoid the Weber river canion, and Mr. Reed and others, who left the company, and came in for assistance, informed me that they were sixteen days making the road, as the men would not work one quarter of their time. Had they gone on the road that we had made for them, they would have easily overtaken us before we reached the old road on Mary’s river. They were then but some 4 of 5 days travel behind the first waggons, which were travelling slow, on account of being obliged to make an entire new rout for several hundred miles through heavy sage and over mountains, and delayed four days by the guides hunting out passes in the mountains, and these waggons arrived at the settlement about the first of October. Had they gone around the old road, the north end of the great Salt Lake, they would have been in the first of September.

After crossing the long drive of 75 miles without water or grass, and suffering much from loss of oxen, they sent on two men (Messrs. Stanton and McCutcher.) They left the company recruiting on the second long drive of 35 miles, and came in to Capt. J. A. Sutter’s Fort, and asked for assistance. Capt. Sutter in his usual prompt and generous manner, furnished them with 7 of his best mules and two of his favorite Indian vaqueros, and all of the flour and beef that they wanted. Mr. C.S. Stanton, a young gentlemen from Syracuse, New York, although he had no interest in the company, took charge of the vaqueros and provisions, and returned to the company. Afterwards, Mr. Reed came in almost exhausted from starvation; he was supplied with a still larger number of horses and mules and all the provisions he could take. He returned as far as the Bear river valley, and found snow so deep, that he could not get to the company. He cached the provisions at that place and returned.

Since that time (the middle of November,) we heard nothing of the company, until last week, when a messenger was sent down from Capt. Wm. Johnson’s settlement, with the astounding information that five women and two men had arrived at that point entirely naked, their feet frost bitten— and informed them that the company arrived within three miles of the small log cabin near Trucky’s Lake on the east side of the mountains, and found the snow so deep that they could not travel, and fearing starvation, sixteen of the strongest, (11 males and 5 females) agreed to start for the settlement on foot. Scantily clothed and provided with provisions they commenced that horrid journey over the mountains that Napoleon’s fete on the Alps was childs play compared with.

After wandering about a number of days bewildered in the snow, their provisions gave out, and long hunger made it necessary to resort to that horrid recourse casting lots to see who should give up life, that their bodies might be used for food for the remainder. But at this time the weaker began to die which rendered it unnecessary to take life, and as they died the company went into camp and made meat of the dead bodies of their companions. After travelling thirty days, 7 out of the 16 arrived within 15 miles of Capt. Johnson’s, the first house of the California settlements; and most singular to relate, all the females that started, 5 women came in safe, and but two of the men, and one of them was brought in on the back of an Indian.

Nine of the men died and seven of them were eaten by their companions— The first person that died was Mr. C.S. Stanton, the young man who so generously returned to the company with Capt. Sutter’s two Indian vaqueros and provisions; his body was left on the snow. The last two that died was Capt. Sutter’s two Indian vaqueros and their bodies were used as food by the seven that came in. The company left behind, numbers sixty odd souls; ten men, the balance women and children. They are in camp about 100 miles from Johnson’s, the first house after leaving the mountains, or 150 from fort Sacramento. Those who have come in say that Capt. Sutter’s seven mules were stolen by the Indians a few days after they reached the company, and that when they had left, the company had provisions sufficient to last them until the middle of February.

The party that came in, were at one time 36 hours in a snow storm without fire; they had but three quilts in the company. I could state several most horrid circumstances connected with this affair: such as one of the women being obliged to eat part of the body of her father and brother, another saw her husband’s heart cooked &c; which would be more suitable for a hangmans journal than the columns of a family newspaper. I have not had the satisfaction of seeing any one of the party that has arrived; but when I do, I will get more of the particulars and sent them to you.

As soon as we received the information we drew up the appeal of which I enclose you a copy, calling a meeting in the armory of the Fort, explained the object of the meeting and solicited the names of all that would go. We were only able to raise seven here,— they started this morning for Johnson’s to join the party raised there. Capt. J.A. Sutter in his usual generous manner ordered his overseer to give this brave band of men, all the provisions they could carry. They took as much beef, bread, and sugar, as they thought they could carry and started in good spirits on their long and perilous trip. Capt. Kern the commander of the Sacramento District, will go up as far as Johnson’s to-morrow to assist in starting the party, and may go as far as the Bear River Valley.

California Star
February 13, 1847
A minor footnote to the Donner Party disaster occurred 73 years after those hapless emigrants began their trek over the Sierra. The February 1919 Grizzly Bear, magazine of the Native Sons of the Golden West, contained this obscure Donnerania buried on page 16, in columns devoted to Parlor happenings around the state:


Truckee— In June of last year, when the Grand Parlor dedicated the Donner Monument, one of the honored guests of the occasion was Mrs. Frank Lewis of Santa Cruz, one of the survivors of the party which suffered such hardships at the monument site during the winter of 1846-47. Recently she sent this letter of greeting to President F. A. Wilson of Donner 162:

At Home
November 23, 1918

Mrs. F. A. Wilson,
President, Donner Parlor, Truckee

Dear Native Son of Our California:

I Love California.

In June, 1918, three of my children accompanied me to witness the unveiling and dedication of the grand monument, erected upon the spot of ground where my own little feet tried to make prints onward and out of the deep, deep, snow, to California, a land of “Plenty of Beef and Wheat.”

Yes, but this is a note of most grateful thanks to all of the Native Sons and Daughters of California. Mr. McGlashan, and all faithful workers, to gain a monument to the Pioneers’ memory. The monument is magnificent, the pride of our State of California.

I desire to send greetings to you, and each member of your Parlor; yes, glad!

Thanksgiving Greeting!

Hip Hip Hurrah! The war [World War I] is over. Peace! Joy, gladness, come to every one of our noble Native Sons. God has been our guide; not through snows and THE starvation, but through the bloodshed of war.

Greetings with all kindest wishes to you and each member of the Donner Parlor of Truckee. I trust we shall meet again, clasp the hands of friendship, and be glad.

I am your old Pioneer friend.

Little Patty Reed, 1846, of the Reed-Donner Party.

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