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



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.

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!

Much as we felt the shock, there was little time for self-indulgence. Never were moments of greater importance; for while father and uncle were hewing a new axle, two men came from the head of the company to tell about the snow. It was a terrible piece of news!

Those men reported that on the twenty-eighth of that month the larger part of the train had reached a deserted cabin near Truckee Lake (the sheet of water now known as Donner Lake) at the foot of Fremont's Pass in the main chain of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The following morning they had proceeded to within three miles of the summit; but finding snow there five feet in depth, the trail obliterated, and no place for making camp, they were obliged to return to the spot they had left early in the day. There, they said, the company had assembled to discuss the next move, and great confusion prevailed as the excited members gave voice to their bitterest fears. Some proposed to abandon the wagons and make the oxen carry out the children and provisions; some wanted to take the children and rations and start out on foot; and some sat brooding in dazed silence through the long night.

The messengers further stated that on the thirtieth, with Stanton as leader, and despite the falling sleet and snow, the forward section of the party united in another desperate effort to cross the summit, but encountered deeper drifts and greater difficulties. As darkness crept over the whitened waste, wagons became separated and lodged in the snow; and all had to cling to the mountain-side until break of day, when the train again returned to its twice abandoned camp, having been compelled, however, to leave several of the wagons where they had become stalled. The report concluded with the statement that the men at once began log-cutting for cabins in which the company might have to pass the winter.

After the messengers left, and as father and Uncle Jacob were hastening preparations for our own departure, new troubles beset us. Uncle was giving the finishing touches to the axle, when the chisel he was using slipped from his grasp, and its keen edge struck and made a serious wound across the back of father's right hand which was steadying the timber. The crippled hand was carefully dressed, and to quiet uncle's fears and discomfort, father made light of the accident, declaring that they had weightier matters for consideration than cuts and bruises. The consequences of that accident, however, were far more wide-reaching than could have been anticipated.

Up and up we toiled until we reached an altitude of six thousand feet, and were within about ten miles of our companions at the lake, when the intense cold drove us into camp on Prosser Creek in Alder Creek Valley, a picturesque and sheltered nook two and a half miles in length and three-quarters of a mile in width. But no one observed the picturesque grandeur of the forest-covered mountains which hem it in on the north and west; nor that eastward and southward it looks out across plateaus to the Washoe Mountains twenty miles away.

A piercing wind was driving storm-clouds toward us, and those who understood their threatening aspect realized that twenty-one persons, eight of them helpless children, were there at the mercy of the pitiless storm-king.

The teams were hurriedly unhooked, the tents pitched, and the men and the women began collecting material for more suitable quarters. Some felled trees, some lopped off the branches, and some, with oxen, dragged the logs into position. There was enough building material on the ground for a good sized foundation four logs deep, when night stopped the work. The moon and stars came out before we went to bed, yet the following morning the ground was covered with snow two or three feet in depth, which had to be shovelled from the exposed beds before their occupants could rise.

I remember well that new day. All plans for log cabins had to be abandoned. There was no sheltered nook for shivering children, so father lifted Georgia and me on to a log, and mother tucked a buffalo robe around us, saying, "Sit here until we have a better place for you." There we sat snug and dry, chatting and twisting our heads about, watching the hurrying, anxious workers. Those not busy at the wagons were helping the builders to construct a permanent camp.

They cleared a space under a tall pine tree and reset the tent a few feet south of its trunk, facing the sunrise. Then, following the Indian method as described by John Baptiste, a rude semi-circular hut of poles was added to the tent, the tree-trunk forming part of its north wall, and its needled boughs, the rafters and cross-pieces to the roof. The structure was overlaid so far as possible with pieces of cloth, old quilts, and buffalo robes, then with boughs and branches of pine and tamarack. A hollow was scooped in the ground near the tree for a fireplace, and an opening in the top served as chimney and ventilator. One opening led into the tent and another served as an outer door.

To keep the beds off the wet earth, two rows of short posts were driven along the sides in the tent, and poles were laid across the tops, thus forming racks to support the pine boughs upon which the beds should be made. While this was being done, Elitha, Leanna, and Mrs. Wolfinger were bringing poles and brush with which to strengthen and sheath the tent walls against wind and weather. Even Sister Frances looked tall and helpful as she trudged by with her little loads.

The combination of tent and hut was designed for my father and family and Mrs. Wolfinger. The teamsters, Samuel Shoemaker, Joseph Rhinehart, James Smith, and John Baptiste, built their hut in Indian wigwam fashion. Not far from us, across the stream, braced against a log, was reared a mixed structure of brush and tent for use of Uncle Jacob, Aunt Betsy, and William and Solomon Hook (Aunt Betsy's sons by a former husband), and their five small children, George, Mary, Isaac, Lewis, and Samuel Donner.

Before we two could leave our perch, the snow was falling faster and in larger flakes. It made pictures for Georgia and me upon the branches of big and little trees; it gathered in a ridge beside us upon the log; it nestled in piles upon our buffalo robe; and by the time our quarters were finished, it was veiling Uncle Jacob's from view. Everything within was cold, damp, and dreary, until our tired mother and elder sisters built the fire, prepared our supper, and sent us to bed, each with a lump of loaf sugar as comforter.

[Footnote 3: Thornton.]



When we awoke the following morning, little heaps of snow lay here and there upon the floor. No threshold could be seen, only a snow-bank reaching up to the white plain beyond, where every sound was muffled, and every object was blurred by falling flakes.

Father's face was very grave. His morning caress had all its wonted tenderness, but the merry twinkle was gone from his eye, and the gladsome note from his voice. For eight consecutive days, the fatal snow fell with but few short intermissions. Eight days, in which there was nothing to break the monotony of torturing, inactive endurance, except the necessity of gathering wood, keeping the fires, and cutting anew the steps which led upward, as the snow increased in depth. Hope well-nigh died within us.

All in camp fared alike, and all were on short rations. Three of our men became dispirited, said that they were too weak and hungry to gather wood, and did not care how soon death should put an end to their miseries.

The out-of-door duties would have fallen wholly upon my Aunt Betsy's two sons and on John Baptiste and on my crippled father, had the women lost their fortitude. They, however, hid their fears from their children, even from each other, and helped to gather fuel, hunt cattle, and keep camp.

Axes were dull, green wood was hard to cut, and harder to carry, whether through loose, dry snow, or over crusts made slippery by sleet and frost. Cattle tracks were covered over. Some of the poor creatures had perished under bushes where they sought shelter. A few had become bewildered and strayed; others were found under trees in snow pits, which they themselves had made by walking round and round the trunks to keep from being snowed under. These starvelings were shot to end their sufferings, and also with the hope that their hides and fleshless bones might save the lives of our snow-beleaguered party. Every part of the animals was saved for food. The locations of the carcasses were marked so that they could be brought piece by piece into camp; and even the green hides were spread against the huts to serve in case of need.

After the storm broke, John Baptiste was sent with a letter from my mother to the camp near the lake. He was absent a number of days, for upon his arrival there, he found a party of fourteen ready to start next morning, on foot, across the summit. He joined it, but after two days of vain effort, the party returned to camp, and he came back to us with an answer to the letter he had delivered.

We then learned that most of those at the lake were better housed than we. Some in huts, and the rest in three log structures, which came to be known respectively as the Murphy, Graves, and Breen cabins. The last mentioned was the relic of earlier travellers[4] and had been grizzled by the storms of several winters. Yet, despite their better accommodations, our companions at the lake were harassed by fears like ours. They too were short of supplies. The game had left the mountains, and the fish in the lake would not bite.

Different parties, both with and without children, had repeatedly endeavored to force their way out of that wilderness of snow, but each in turn had become confused, and unconsciously moved in a circle back to camp. Several persons had become snow-blind. Every landmark was lost, even to Stanton, who had twice crossed the range.

All now looked to the coming of McCutchen and Reed for deliverance. We had every reason to expect them soon, for each had left his family with the company, and had promised to return with succor. Moreover, Stanton had brought tidings that the timely assistance of himself and comrade had enabled Reed to reach Sutter's Fort in safety; and that McCutchen would have accompanied him back, had he not been detained by illness.

Well, indeed, was it that we could not know that at the very time we were so anxiously awaiting their arrival, those two men, after struggling desperately to cross the snows, were finally compelled to abandon the attempt, bury the precious food they had striven to bring us, and return to the settlement.

It was also well that we were unaware of their baffling fears, when the vigorous efforts incited by the memorial presented by Reed to Commodore Stockton, the military Governor of California, were likewise frustrated by mountain storms.

[Footnote 4: Built by Townsend party in 1844. See McGlashan's "History of the Donner Party."]



Meanwhile with us in the Sierras, November ended with four days and nights of continuous snow, and December rushed in with a wild, shrieking storm of wind, sleet, and rain, which ceased on the third. The weather remained clear and cold until the ninth, when Milton Elliot and Noah James came on snowshoes to Donner's camp, from the lake cabins, to ascertain if their captain was still alive, and to report the condition of the rest of the company.

Before morning, another terrific storm came swirling and whistling down our snowy stairway, making fires unsafe, freezing every drop of water about the camp, and shutting us in from the light of heaven. Ten days later Milton Elliot alone fought his way back to the lake camp with these tidings: "Jacob Donner, Samuel Shoemaker, Joseph Rhinehart, and James Smith are dead, and the others in a low condition."[5]

Uncle Jacob, the first to die, was older than my father, and had been in miserable health for years before we left Illinois. He had gained surprisingly on the journey, yet quickly felt the influence of impending fate, foreshadowed by the first storm at camp. His courage failed. Complete prostration followed.

My father and mother watched with him during the last night, and the following afternoon helped to lay his body in a cave dug in the mountain side, beneath the snow. That snow had scarcely resettled when Samuel Shoemaker's life ebbed away in happy delirium. He imagined himself a boy again in his father's house and thought his mother had built a fire and set before him the food of which he was fondest.

But when Joseph Rhinehart's end drew near, his mind wandered, and his whitening lips confessed a part in Mr. Wolfinger's death; and my father, listening, knew not how to comfort that troubled soul. He could not judge whether the self-condemning words were the promptings of a guilty conscience, or the ravings of an unbalanced mind.

Like a tired child falling asleep, was James Smith's death; and Milton Elliot, who helped to bury the four victims and then carried the distressing report to the lake camp, little knew that he would soon be among those later called to render a final accounting. Yet it was even so.

Our camp having been thus depleted by death, Noah James, who had been one of my father's drivers, from Springfield until we passed out of the desert, now cast his lot again with ours, and helped John Baptiste to dig for the carcasses of the cattle. It was weary work, for the snow was higher than the level of the guide marks, and at times they searched day after day and found no trace of hoof or horn. The little field mice that had crept into camp were caught then and used to ease the pangs of hunger. Also pieces of beef hide were cut into strips, singed, scraped, boiled to the consistency of glue, and swallowed with an effort; for no degree of hunger could make the saltless, sticky substance palatable. Marrowless bones which had already been boiled and scraped, were now burned and eaten, even the bark and twigs of pine were chewed in the vain effort to soothe the gnawings which made one cry for bread and meat.

During the bitterest weather we little ones were kept in bed, and my place was always in the middle where Frances and Georgia, snuggling up close, gave me of their warmth, and from them I learned many things which I could neither have understood nor remembered had they not made them plain.

Just one happy play is impressed upon my mind. It must have been after the first storm, for the snow bank in front of the cabin door was not high enough to keep out a little sunbeam that stole down the steps and made a bright spot upon our floor. I saw it, and sat down under it, held it on my lap, passed my hand up and down in its brightness, and found that I could break its ray in two. In fact, we had quite a frolic. I fancied that it moved when I did, for it warmed the top of my head, kissed first one cheek and then the other, and seemed to run up and down my arm. Finally I gathered up a piece of it in my apron and ran to my mother. Great was my surprise when I carefully opened the folds and found that I had nothing to show, and the sunbeam I had left seemed shorter. After mother explained its nature, I watched it creep back slowly up the steps and disappear.

Snowy Christmas brought us no "glad tidings," and New Year's Day no happiness. Yet, each bright day that followed a storm was one of thanksgiving, on which we all crept up the flight of snow steps and huddled about on the surface in the blessed sunshine, but with our eyes closed against its painful and blinding glare.

Once my mother took me to a hole where I saw smoke coming up, and she told me that its steps led down to Uncle Jacob's tent, and that we would go down there to see Aunt Betsy and my little cousins.

I stooped low and peered into the dark depths. Then I called to my cousins to come to me, because I was afraid to go where they were. I had not seen them since the day we encamped. At that time they were chubby and playful, carrying water from the creek to their tent in small tin pails. Now, they were so changed in looks that I scarcely knew them, and they stared at me as at a stranger. So I was glad when my mother came up and took me back to our own tent, which seemed less dreary because I knew the things that were in it, and the faces about me.

Father's hand became worse. The swelling and inflammation extending up the arm to the shoulder produced suffering which he could not conceal. Each day that we had a fire, I watched mother sitting by his side, with a basin of warm water upon her lap, laving the wounded and inflamed parts very tenderly, with a strip of frayed linen wrapped around a little stick. I remember well the look of comfort that swept over his worn features as she laid the soothed arm back into place.

By the middle of January the snow measured twelve and fourteen feet in depth. Nothing could be seen of our abode except the coils of smoke that found their way up through the opening. There was a dearth of water. Prosser Creek was frozen over and covered with snow. Icicles hung from the branches of every tree. The stock of pine cones that had been gathered for lights was almost consumed. Wood was so scarce that we could not have fire enough to cook our strips of rawhide, and Georgia heard mother say that we children had not had a dry garment on in more than a week, and that she did not know what to do about it. Then like a smile from God, came another sunny day which not only warmed and dried us thoroughly but furnished a supply of water from dripping snowbanks.

The twenty-first was also bright, and John Baptiste went on snowshoes with messages to the lake camp. He found its inmates in a more pitiable condition than we were. Only one death had occurred there since our last communication, but he saw several of the starving who could not survive many days.

The number to consume the slender stock of food had been lessened, however, on the sixteenth of December, some six weeks previously, by the departure of William Eddy, Patrick Dolan, Lemuel Murphy, William Foster, Mrs. Sarah Foster, Jay Fosdick, Mrs. Sarah Fosdick, Mrs. William McCutchen, Mrs. Harriet Pike, Miss Mary Graves, Franklin Graves, Sr., C.T. Stanton, Antonio, Lewis, and Salvador.

This party, which called itself "The Forlorn Hope," had a most memorable experience, as will be shown later. In some instances husband had parted from wife, and father from children. Three young mothers had left their babes in the arms of grandmothers. It was a dire resort, a last desperate attempt, in face of death, to save those dependent upon them.

Staff in hand, they had set forth on snowshoes, each carrying a pack containing little save a quilt and light rations for six days' journeying. One had a rifle, ammunition, flint, and hatchet for camp use. William Murphy and Charles Burger, who had originally been of the number, gave out before the close of the first day, and crept back to camp. The others continued under the leadership of the intrepid Eddy and brave Stanton.

John Baptiste remained there a short time and returned to us, saying, "Those at the other camp believe the promised relief is close at hand!"

This rekindled hope in us, even as it had revived courage and prolonged lives in the lake cabins, and we prayed, as they were praying, that the relief might come before its coming should be too late.

Oh, how we watched, hour after hour, and how often each day John Baptiste climbed to the topmost bough of a tall pine tree and, with straining eyes, scanned the desolate expanse for one moving speck in the distance, for one ruffled track on the snow which should ease our awful suspense.

Days passed. No food in camp except an unsavory beef hide—pinching hunger called for more. Again John Baptiste and Noah James went forth in anxious search for marks of our buried cattle. They made excavations, then forced their hand-poles deep, deeper into the snow, but in vain their efforts—the nail and hook at the points brought up no sign of blood, hair, or hide. In dread unspeakable they returned, and said:

"We shall go mad; we shall die! It is useless to hunt for the cattle; but the dead, if they could be reached, their bodies might keep us alive."

"No," replied father and mother, speaking for themselves. "No, part of a hide still remains. When it is gone we will perish, if that be the alternative."

The fact was, our dead could not have been disturbed even had the attempt been made, for the many snowfalls of winter were banked about them firm as granite walls, and in that camp was neither implement nor arm strong enough to reach their resting-places.

It was a long, weary waiting, on starvation rations until the nineteenth of February. I did not see any one coming that morning; but I remember that, suddenly, there was an unusual stir and excitement in the camp. Three strangers were there, and one was talking with father. The others took packs from their backs and measured out small quantities of flour and jerked beef and two small biscuits for each of us. Then they went up to fell the sheltering pine tree over our tent for fuel; while Noah James, Mrs. Wolfinger, my two half-sisters, and mother kept moving about hunting for things.

Finally Elitha and Leanna came and kissed me, then father, "good-bye," and went up the steps, and out of sight. Mother stood on the snow where she could see all go forth. They moved in single file,—the leaders on snowshoes, the weak stepping in the tracks made by the strong. Leanna, the last in line, was scarcely able to keep up. It was not until after mother came back with Frances and Georgia that I was made to understand that this was the long-hoped-for relief party.

It had come and gone, and had taken Noah James, Mrs. Wolfinger, and my two half-sisters from us; then had stopped at Aunt Betsy's for William Hook, her eldest son, and my Cousin George, and all were now on the way to the lake cabins to join others who were able to walk over the snow without assistance.

The rescuers, seven in number, who had followed instructions given them at the settlement, professed to have no knowledge of the Forlorn Hope, except that this first relief expedition had been outfitted by Captain Sutter and Alcalde Sinclair in response to Mr. Eddy's appeal, and that other rescue parties were being organized in California, and would soon come prepared to carry out the remaining children and helpless grown folk. By this we knew that Mr. Eddy, at least, had succeeded in reaching the settlement.

[Footnote 5: Patrick Breen's Diary.]



Although we were so meagrely informed, it is well that my readers should, at this point, become familiar with the experiences of the expedition known as the Forlorn Hope,[6] and also the various measures taken for our relief when our precarious condition was made known to the good people of California. It will be remembered that the Forlorn Hope was the party of fifteen which, as John Baptiste reported to us, made the last unaided attempt to cross the mountains.

Words cannot picture, nor mind conceive, more torturing hardships and privations than were endured by that little band on its way to the settlement. It left the camp on the sixteenth of December, with scant rations for six days, hoping in that time to force its way to Bear Valley and there find game. But the storms which had been so pitiless at the mountain camps followed the unprotected refugees with seemingly fiendish fury. After the first day from camp, its members could no longer keep together on their marches. The stronger broke the trail, and the rest followed to night-camp as best they could.

On the third day, Stanton's sight failed, and he begged piteously to be led; but, soon realizing the heart-rending plight of his companions, he uncomplainingly submitted to his fate. Three successive nights, he staggered into camp long after the others had finished their stinted meal. Always he was shivering from cold, sometimes wet with sleet and rain.

It is recorded that at no time had the party allowed more than an ounce of food per meal to the individual, yet the rations gave out on the night of the twenty-second, while they were still in a wilderness of snow-peaks. Mr. Eddy only was better provided. In looking over his pack that morning for the purpose of throwing away any useless article, he unexpectedly found a small bag containing about a half-pound of dried bear-meat.[7] Fastened to the meat was a pencilled note from his wife, begging him to save the hidden treasure until his hour of direst need, since it might then be the means of saving his life. The note was signed, "Your own dear Elinor." With tenderest emotion, he slipped the food back, resolving to do the dear one's bidding, trusting that she and their children might live until he should return for them.

The following morning, while the others were preparing to leave camp, Stanton sat beside the smouldering fire smoking his pipe. When ready to go forth, they asked him if he was coming, and he replied, "Yes, I am coming soon." Those were his parting words to his friends, and his greeting to the Angel of Death.[8] He never left that fireside, and his companions were too feeble to return for him when they found he did not come into camp.

Twenty-four hours later, the members of that hapless little band threw themselves upon the desolate waste of snow to ponder the problems of life and death; to search each the other's face for answer to the question their lips durst not frame. Fathers who had left their families, and mothers who had left their babes, wanted to go back and die with them, if die they must; but Mr. Eddy and the Indians—those who had crossed the range with Stanton—declared that they would push on to the settlement. Then Mary Graves, in whose young heart were still whisperings of hope, courageously said:

"I, too, will go on, for to go back and hear the cries of hunger from my little brothers and sisters is more than I can stand. I shall go as far as I can, let the consequences be what they may."

W.F. Graves, her father, would not let his daughter proceed alone, and finally all decided to make a final, supreme effort. Yet—think of it—they were without one morsel of food! Even the wind seemed to hold its breath as the suggestion was made that, "were one to die, the rest might live." Then the suggestion was made that lots be cast, and whoever drew the longest slip should be the sacrifice. Mr. Eddy endorsed the plan. Despite opposition from Mr. Foster and others, the slips of paper were prepared, and great-hearted Patrick Dolan drew the fatal slip. Patrick Dolan, who had come away from camp that his famishing friends might prolong their lives by means of the small stock of food which he had to leave! Harm a hair of that good man's head? Not a soul of that starving band would do it.

Mr. Eddy then proposed that they resume their journey as best they could until death should claim a victim. All acquiesced. Slowly rising to their feet, they managed to stagger and to crawl forward about three miles to a tree which furnished fuel for their Christmas fire. It was kindled with great difficulty, for in cutting the boughs, the hatchet blade flew off the handle and for a time was lost in deep snow.

Meanwhile, every puff of wind was laden with killing frost, and in sight of that glowing fire, Antonio froze to death. Mr. Graves, who was also breathing heavily, when told by Mr. Eddy that he was dying, replied that he did not care. He, however, called his daughters, Mrs. Fosdick and Mary Graves, to him, and by his parting injunctions, showed that he was still able to realize keenly the dangers that beset them. Remembering how their faces had paled at the suggestion of using human flesh for food, he admonished them to put aside the natural repugnance which stood between them and the possibility of life. He commanded them to banish sentiment and instinctive loathing, and think only of their starving mother, brothers, and sisters whom they had left in camp, and avail themselves of every means in their power to rescue them. He begged that his body be used to sustain the famishing, and bidding each farewell, his spirit left its bruised and worn tenement before half the troubles of the night were passed.

About ten o'clock, pelting hail, followed by snow on the wings of a tornado, swept every spark of fire from those shivering mortals, whose voices now mingled with the shrieking wind, calling to heaven for relief. Mr. Eddy, knowing that all would freeze to death in the darkness if allowed to remain exposed, succeeded after many efforts in getting them close together between their blankets where the snow covered them.

With the early morning, Patrick Dolan became delirious and left camp. He was brought back with difficulty and forcibly kept under cover until late in the day, when he sank into a stupor, whence he passed quietly into that sleep which knows no waking.

The crucial hour had come. Food lay before the starving, yet every eye turned from it and every hand dropped irresolute.

Another night of agony passed, during which Lemuel Murphy became delirious and called long and loud for food; but the cold was so intense that it kept all under their blankets until four o'clock in the afternoon, when Mr. Eddy succeeded in getting a fire in the trunk of a large pine tree. Whereupon, his companions, instead of seeking food, crept forth and broke off low branches, put them down before the fire and laid their attenuated forms upon them. The flames leaped up the trunk, and burned off dead boughs so that they dropped on the snow about them, but the unfortunates were too weak and too indifferent to fear the burning brands.

Mr. Eddy now fed his waning strength on shreds of his concealed bear-meat, hoping that he might survive to save the giver. The rest in camp could scarcely walk, by the twenty-eighth, and their sensations of hunger were deminishing. This condition forebode delirium and death, unless stayed by the only means at hand. It was in very truth a pitiful alternative offered to the sufferers.

With sickening anguish the first morsels were prepared and given to Lemuel Murphy, but for him they were too late. Not one touched flesh of kindred body. Nor was there need of restraining hand, or warning voice to gauge the small quantity which safety prescribed to break the fast of the starving. Death would have been preferable to that awful meal, had relentless fate not said: "Take, eat that ye may live. Eat, lest ye go mad and leave your work undone!"

All but the Indians obeyed the mandate, and were strengthened and reconciled to prepare the remaining flesh to sustain them a few days longer on their journey.

Hitherto, the wanderers had been guided partly by the fitful sun, partly by Lewis and Salvador, the Indians who had come with Stanton from Sutter's Fort. In the morning, however, when they were ready to leave that spot, which was thereafter known as the "Camp of Death," Salvador, who could speak a little English, insisted that he and Lewis were lost, and, therefore, unable to guide them farther.

Nevertheless, the party at once set out and travelled instinctively until evening. The following morning they wrapped pieces of blanket around their cracked and swollen feet and again struggled onward until late in the afternoon, when they encamped upon a high ridge. There they saw beyond, in the distance, a wide plain which they believed to be the Sacramento Valley.

This imaginary glimpse of distant lowland gave them a peaceful sleep. The entire day of December 31 was spent in crossing a canon, and every footstep left its trace of blood in the snow.

When they next encamped, Mr. Eddy saw that poor Jay Fosdick was failing, and he begged him to summon up all his courage and energy in order to reach the promised land, now so near. They were again without food; and William Foster, whose mind had become unbalanced by the long fast, was ready to kill Mrs. McCutchen or Miss Graves. Mr. Eddy confronted and intimidated the crazed sufferer, who next threatened the Indian guides, and would have carried out his threat then, had Mr. Eddy not secretly warned them against danger and urged them to flee. But nothing could save the Indians from Foster's insane passion later, when he found them on the trail in an unconscious and dying condition.

January 1, 1847, was, to the little band of eight, a day of less distressing trials; its members resumed travel early, braced by unswerving will-power. They stopped at midday and revived strength by eating the toasted strings of their snowshoes. Mr. Eddy also ate his worn out moccasins, and all felt a renewal of hope upon seeing before them an easier grade which led to night-camp where the snow was only six feet in depth. Soothed by a milder temperature, they resumed their march earlier next morning and descended to where the snow was but three feet deep. There they built their camp-fire and slightly crisped the leather of a pair of old boots and a pair of shoes which constituted their evening meal, and was the last of their effects available as food.

An extraordinary effort on the third day of the new year brought them to bare ground between patches of snow. They were still astray among the western foothills of the Sierras, and sat by a fire under an oak tree all night, enduring hunger that was almost maddening.

Jay Fosdick was sinking rapidly, and Mr. Eddy resolved to take the gun and steal away from camp at dawn. But his conscience smote him, and he finally gave the others a hint of his intention of going in search of game, and of not returning unless successful. Not a moving creature nor a creeping thing had crossed the trail on their journey thither; but the open country before them, and minor marks well known to hunters, had caught Mr. Eddy's eye and strengthened his determination. Mrs. Pike, in dread and fear of the result, threw her arms about Mr. Eddy's neck and implored him not to leave them, and the others mingled their entreaties and protestations with hers. In silence he took his gun to go alone. Then Mary Graves declared that she would keep up with him, and without heeding further opposition the two set out. A short distance from camp they stopped at a place where a deer had recently lain.

With a thrill of emotion too intense for words, with a prayer in his heart too fervent for utterance, Mr. Eddy turned his tearful eyes toward Mary and saw her weeping like a child. A moment later, that man and that woman who had once said that they knew not how to pray, were kneeling beside that newly found track pleading in broken accents to the Giver of all life, for a manifestation of His power to save their starving band. Long restrained tears were still streaming down the cheeks of both, and soothing their anxious hearts as they arose to go in pursuit of the deer. J.Q. Thornton says:

They had not proceeded far before they saw a large buck about eighty yards distant. Mr. Eddy raised his rifle and for some time tried to bring it to bear upon the deer, but such was his extreme weakness that he could not. He breathed a little, changed his manner of holding the gun, and made another effort. Again his weakness prevented him from being able to hold upon it. He heard a low, suppressed sobbing behind him, and, turning around, saw Mary Graves weeping and in great agitation, her head bowed, and her hands upon her face. Alarmed lest she should cause the deer to run, Mr. Eddy begged her to be quiet, which she was, after exclaiming, "Oh, I am afraid you will not kill it."

He brought the gun to his face the third time, and elevated the muzzle above the deer, let it descend until he saw the animal through the sight, when the rifle cracked. Mary immediately wept aloud, exclaiming, "Oh, merciful God, you have missed it!" Mr. Eddy assured her that he had not; that the rifle was upon it the moment of firing; and that, in addition to this, the animal had dropped its tail between its legs, which this animal always does when wounded.

His belief was speedily confirmed. The deer ran a short distance, then fell, and the two eager watchers hastened to it as fast as their weakened condition would allow. Mr. Eddy cut the throat of the expiring beast with his pocket-knife, and he and his companion knelt down and drank the warm blood that flowed from the wound.

The excitement of getting that blessed food, and the strength it imparted, produced a helpful reaction, and enabled them to sit down in peace to rest a while, before attempting to roll their treasure to the tree near-by, where they built a fire and prepared the entrails.

Mr. Eddy fired several shots after dark, so that the others might know that he had not abandoned them. Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Foster, Mrs. McCutchen, and Mrs. Pike had moved forward and made their camp half-way between Mr. Eddy's new one and that of the previous night. Mr. Fosdick, however, being too weak to rise, remained at the first camp. His devoted wife pillowed his head upon her lap, and prayed that death would call them away together. Mr. Thornton continues:

The sufferer had heard the crack of Mr. Eddy's rifle at the time he killed the deer, and said, feebly, "There! Eddy has killed a deer! Now, if I can only get to him I shall live!"

But in the stillness of that cold, dark night, Jay Fosdick's spirit fled alone. His wife wrapped their only blanket about his body, and lay down on the ground beside him, hoping to freeze to death. The morning dawned bright, the sun came out, and the lone widow rose, kissed the face of her dead, and, with a small bundle in her hand, started to join Mr. Eddy. She passed a hunger-crazed man on the way from the middle camp, going to hers, and her heart grew sick, for she knew that her loved one's body would not be spared for burial rites.

She found Mr. Eddy drying his deer meat before the fire, and later saw him divide it so that each of his companions in the camps should have an equal share.

The seven survivors, each with his portion of venison, resumed travel on the sixth and continued in the foothills a number of days, crawling up the ascents, sliding down the steeps; often harassed by fears of becoming lost near the goal, yet unaware that they were astray.

The venison had been consumed. Hope had almost died in the heart of the bravest, when at the close of day on the tenth of January, twenty-five days from the date of leaving Donner Lake, they saw an Indian village at the edge of a thicket they were approaching. As the sufferers staggered forward, the Indians were overwhelmed at sight of their misery. The warriors gazed in stolid silence. The squaws wrung their hands and wept aloud. The larger children hid themselves, and the little ones clung to their mothers in fear. The first sense of horror having passed, those dusky mothers fed the unfortunates. Some brought them unground acorns to eat, while others mixed the meal into cakes and offered them as fast as they could cook them on the heated stones. All except Mr. Eddy were strengthened by the food. It sickened him, and he resorted to green grass boiled in water.

The following morning the chief sent his runners to other rancherias, en route to the settlement, telling his people of the distress of the pale-faces who were coming toward them, and who would need food. When the Forlorn Hope was ready to move on, the chief led the way, and an Indian walked on either side of each sufferer supporting and helping the unsteady feet. At each rancheria the party was put in charge of a new leader and fresh supporters.

On the seventeenth, the chief with much difficulty procured, for Mr. Eddy, a gill of pine nuts which the latter found so nutritious that the following morning, on resuming travel, he was able to walk without support. They had proceeded less than a mile when his companions sank to the ground completely unnerved. They had suddenly given up and were willing to die. The Indians appeared greatly perplexed, and Mr. Eddy shook with sickening fear. Was his great effort to come to naught? Should his wife and babes die while he stood guard over those who would no longer help themselves? No, he would push ahead and see what he yet could do!

The old chief sent an Indian with him as a guide and support. Relieved of the sight and personal responsibility of his enfeebled companions, Mr. Eddy felt a renewal of strength and determination. He pressed onward, scarcely heeding his dusky guide. At the end of five miles they met another Indian, and Mr. Eddy, now conscious that his feet were giving out, promised the stranger tobacco, if he would go with them and help to lead him to the "white man's house."

And so that long, desperate struggle for life, and for the sake of loved ones, ended an hour before sunset, when Mr. Eddy, leaning heavily upon the Indians, halted before the door of Colonel M.D. Richey's home, thirty-five miles from Sutter's Fort.

The first to meet him was the daughter of the house, whom he asked for bread. Thornton says:

She looked at him, burst out crying, and took hold of him to assist him into the room. He was immediately placed in bed, in which he lay unable to turn his body during four days. In a very short time he had food brought to him by Mrs. Richey, who sobbed as she fed the miserable and frightful being before her. Shortly, Harriet, the daughter, had carried the news from house to house in the neighborhood, and horses were running at full speed from place to place until all preparations were made for taking relief to those whom Mr. Eddy had left in the morning.

William Johnson, John Howell, John Rhodes, Mr. Keiser, Mr. Sagur, Racine Tucker, and Joseph Varro assembled at Mr. Richey's immediately. The females collected the bread they had, with tea, sugar, and coffee, amounting to as much as four men could carry. Howell, Rhodes, Sagur, and Tucker started at once, on foot, with the Indians as guides, and arrived at camp, between fifteen and eighteen miles distant, at midnight.

Mr. Eddy had warned the outgoing party against giving the sufferers as much food as they might want, but, on seeing them, the tender-hearted men could not deny their tearful begging for "more." One of the relief was kept busy until dawn preparing food which the rest gave to the enfeebled emigrants. This overdose of kindness made its victims temporarily very ill, but caused no lasting harm.

Early on the morning of January 18, Messrs. Richey, Johnson, Varro, and Keiser, equipped with horses and other necessaries, hurried away to bring in the refugees, together with their comrades who had gone on before. By ten o'clock that night the whole of the Forlorn Hope were safe in the homes of their benefactors. Mr. Richey declared that he and his party had retraced Mr. Eddy's track six miles, by the blood from his feet; and that they could not have believed that he had travelled that eighteen miles, if they themselves had not passed over the ground in going to his discouraged companions.

[Footnote 6: The experiences of the Donner Party, to which he refers in a footnote, suggested to Bret Harte the opening chapters of "Gabriel Conroy"; but he has followed the sensational accounts circulated by the newspapers, and the survivors find his work a mere travesty of the facts. The narrative, however, does not purport to set forth the truth, but is confessedly imaginative.]

[Footnote 7: Mr. Eddy had killed the bear and dried the meat early in the winter.]

[Footnote 8: His body was found there later by the First Relief Party.]



The kindness and sympathy shown Mr. Eddy by the good people in the neighborhood of the Richey and Johnson ranches encouraged his efforts in behalf of his fellow-sufferers in the mountains. While the early sunlight of January 19 was flooding his room with cheer and warmth, he dictated a letter to Mr. John Sinclair, Alcalde of the Upper District of California, living near Sutter's Fort, in which he stated as briefly as possible the conditions and perils surrounding the snow-bound travellers, and begged him to use every means in his power toward their immediate rescue.

Bear River was running high, and the plain between it and Sutter's Fort seemed a vast quagmire, but John Rhodes volunteered to deliver the letter. He was ferried over the river on a raft formed of two logs lashed together with strips of rawhide. Then he rolled his trousers above the knee and with his shoes in his hand, started on his mission. He saw no white faces until he reached Sinclair's, where the letter created a painful interest and won ready promises of help.

It was dark when he reached Sutter's Fort, nevertheless from house to house he spread the startling report: "Men, women, and little children are snow-bound in the Sierras, and starving to death!"

Captain Kerns in charge at the Fort, pledged his aid, and influence to the cause of relief. Captain Sutter, who had already twice sent supplies, first by Stanton and again by McCutchen and Reed, in their unsuccessful attempt to cross the mountains, at once agreed to cooeperate with Alcalde Sinclair.

While Captain Kerns at Sutter's Fort was sending messengers to different points, and Mrs. Sinclair was collecting clothing to replace the tattered garments of the members of the Forlorn Hope, her husband despatched an open letter to the people of San Francisco, describing the arrival of the survivors of the Forlorn Hope, and the heart-rending condition of those remaining in the mountains. He urged immediate action, and offered his services for individual work, or to cooeperate with Government relief, or any parties that might be preparing to go out with Messrs. Reed and McCutchen, who were known to be endeavoring to raise a second expedition.

The letter was taken to the City Hotel in San Francisco, and read aloud in the dining-room. Its contents aroused all the tender emotions known to human nature. Some of the listeners had parted from members of the Donner Party at the Little Sandy, when its prospects appeared so bright, and the misfortunes which had since befallen the party seemed incredible. Women left the room sobbing, and men called those passing, in from the street, to join the knots of earnest talkers. All were ready and willing to do; but, alas, the obstacles which had prevented Mr. Reed getting men for the mountain work still remained to be overcome.

Existing war between Mexico and the United States was keeping California in a disturbed condition. Most of the able-bodied male emigrants had enlisted under Captain Fremont as soon as they reached the country, and were still on duty in the southern part of the province; and the non-enlisted were deemed necessary for the protection of the colonies of American women and children encamped on the soil of the enemy. Moreover, all felt that each man who should attempt to cross the snow belt would do so at the peril of his life.

Mr. Reed, who in the late Autumn had sent petitions to the Military Governor and to Lieutenant Washington A. Bartlett of the United States Navy, Alcalde of the town and district of San Francisco, but as yet had obtained nothing, now appeared before each in person, and was promised assistance. Captain Mervine of the United States Navy, and Mr. Richardson, United States Collector, each subscribed fifty dollars to the cause on his own account.

As a result of these appeals, Alcalde Bartlett called a public meeting; and so intense was the feeling that Mr. Dunleary, "the first speaker, had scarcely taken his seat on the platform when the people rushed to the chairman's table from all parts of the house with their hands full of silver dollars," and could hardly be induced to stay their generosity until the meeting was organized.

A treasurer and two committees were appointed; the one to solicit subscriptions, and the other to purchase supplies. The Alcalde was requested to act with both committees. Seven hundred dollars was subscribed before the meeting adjourned. Seven hundred dollars, in an isolated Spanish province, among newly arrived immigrants, was a princely sum to gather.

Messrs. Ward and Smith, in addition to a generous subscription, offered their launch Dice mi Nana, to transport the expedition to Feather River, and Mr. John Fuller volunteered to pilot the launch.

It was decided to fit out an expedition, under charge of Past Midshipman Woodworth, who had tendered his services for the purpose, he to act under instructions of the Military Governor and cooeperate with the committee aiding Reed.

Soon thereafter "Old Trapper Greenwood" appeared in San Francisco, asking for assistance in fitting out a following to go to the mountains with himself and McCutchen, Mr. George Yount and others in and around Sonoma and Napa having recommended him as leader. Donations of horses, mules, beef, and flour had already been sent to his camp in Napa Valley. Furthermore, Lieut. William L. Maury, U.S.N., Commander at the port; Don Mariano G. Vallejo, Ex-Commandante-General of California; Mr. George Yount, and others subscribed the sum of five hundred dollars in specie toward outfitting Greenwood and the men he should select to cross the mountains.

Greenwood urged that he should have ten or twelve men on whom he could rely after reaching deep snow. These, he said, he could secure if he had the ready money to make advances and to procure the necessary warm clothing and blankets. He had crossed the Sierras before, when the snow lay deep on the summit, and now proposed to drive over horses and kill them at the camps as provisions for the sufferers. If this scheme should fail, he and his sons with others would get food to the camp on snowshoes. Thornton says:

The Governor-General of California, after due form, and trusting to the generosity and humanity of the Government which he represented, appropriated four hundred dollars on Government account toward outfitting this relief party. Furthermore, in compliance with an application from Alcalde Bartlett (for the committee), Captain Mervine, of the U.S. frigate Savannah, furnished from the ship's stores ten days' full rations for ten men. The crews of the Savannah and the sloop Warren, and the marines in garrison at San Francisco, increased the relief fund to thirteen hundred dollars. Messrs. Mellus and Howard tendered their launch to carry the party up the bay to Sonoma, and Captain Sutter proffered his launch Sacramento for river use.

It was now settled that the "Reed-Greenwood party" should go to Johnson's ranch by way of Sonoma and Napa, and Woodworth with his men and supplies, including clothing for the destitute, should go by boat to Sutter's Landing; there procure pack animals, buy beef cattle, and hurry on to the snow-belt; establish a relay camp, slaughter the cattle, and render all possible aid toward the immediate rescue of the snow-bound.

Meanwhile, before Alcalde Sinclair's letter had time to reach San Francisco, he and Captain Sutter began outfitting the men destined to become the "First Relief." Aguilla Glover and R.S. Moutrey volunteered their services, declaring their willingness to undertake the hazardous journey for the sake of the lives they might save.

To hasten recruits for service, Captain Sutter and Alcalde Sinclair promised that in case the Government should fail to grant the sum, they themselves would become responsible for the payment of three dollars per day to each man who would get food through to the snow-bound camps. Accordingly, Aguilla Glover and R.S. Moutrey, driving pack animals well laden with warm clothing, blankets, and food supplies, left the Fort at sunrise on the morning of February the first, and on the third reached Johnson's ranch, where they joined Messrs. Tucker, Johnson, Richey and others, who, being anxious to assist in the good work, had killed, and were fire-drying, beef to take up the mountains. Here two days were spent making pack-saddles, driving in horses, and getting supplies in shape. Indians were kept at the handmill grinding wheat. Part of the flour was sacked, and part converted into bread by the women in the vicinity.

On the morning of the fifth of February, Alcalde Sinclair rode to Johnson's ranch, and all things being ready, he appointed Racine Tucker Captain of the company, and in touching words commended the heroic work of its members, and bade them godspeed on their errand of mercy. When ready to mount, he shook hands with each man, and recorded the names in a note-book as follows:

Racine Tucker, Aguilla Glover, R.S. Moutrey, John Rhodes, Daniel Rhodes, Edward Coffemeir, D. Richey, James Curtis, William Eddy,[9] William Coon, George Tucker, Adolph Brenheim, and John Foster.[9]

This party is generally known as the "First Relief." Their route to the snow-belt lay through sections of country which had become so soft and oozy that the horses often sank in mire, flank deep; and the streams were so swollen that progress was alarmingly slow. On the second day they were driven into camp early by heavy rains which drenched clothing, blankets, and even the provisions carefully stored under the saddles and leather saddle-covers. This caused a delay of thirty-six hours, for everything had to be sun or fire dried before the party could resume travel.

Upon reaching Mule Springs, the party found the snow from three to four feet deep, and, contrary to expectations, saw that it would be impossible to proceed farther with the horses. Mr. Eddy was now ill of fever, and unfit to continue the climb; whereupon his companions promised to bring out his loved ones if he would return with Joe Varro, whom Mr. Johnson had sent along to bring the pack animals home after they should cease to be of use.

At Mule Springs, the party built a brush store-house for the extra supplies and appointed George Tucker and William Coon camp-keepers. Then they prepared packs containing jerked beef, flour, and bread, each weighing between forty and seventy-five pounds, according to the temperament and strength of the respective carriers. The following morning ten men started on their toilsome march to Bear Valley, where they arrived on the thirteenth, and at once began searching for the abandoned wagon and provisions which Reed and McCutchen had cached the previous Autumn, after their fruitless attempt to scale the mountains. The wagon was found under snow ten feet in depth; but its supplies had been destroyed by wild beasts. Warned by this catastrophe, the First Relief decided to preserve its supplies for the return trip by hanging them in parcels from ropes tied to the boughs of trees.

The ten kept together courageously until the fifteenth; then Mr. M.D. Richey, James Curtis, and Adolph Brenheim gave up and turned back. Mr. Tucker, fearing that others might become disheartened and do likewise, guaranteed each man who would persevere to the end, five dollars per diem, dating from the time the party entered the snow. The remaining seven pushed ahead, and on the eighteenth, encamped on the summit overlooking the lake, where the snow was said to be forty feet in depth.

The following morning Aguilla Glover and Daniel Rhodes were so oppressed by the altitude that their companions had to relieve them of their packs and help them on to the cabins, which, as chronicled in a previous chapter, the party reached on the nineteenth of February, 1847.

[Footnote 9: Of the Forlorn Hope.]



After the departure of the First Relief we who were left in the mountains began to watch and pray for the coming of the Second Relief, as we had before watched and prayed for the coming of the First.

Sixteen-year-old John Baptiste was disappointed and in ill humor when Messrs. Tucker and Rhodes insisted that he, being the only able-bodied man in the Donner camp, should stay and cut wood for the enfeebled, until the arrival of other rescuers. The little half-breed was a sturdy fellow, but he was starving too, and thought that he should be allowed to save himself.

After he had had a talk with father, however, and the first company of refugees had gone, he became reconciled to his lot, and served us faithfully. He would take us little ones up to exercise upon the snow, saying that we should learn to keep our feet on the slick, frozen surface, as well as to wade through slush and loose drifts.

Frequently, when at work and lonesome, he would call Georgia and me up to keep him company, and when the weather was frosty, he would bring "Old Navajo," his long Indian blanket, and roll her in it from one end, and me from the other, until we would come together in the middle, like the folds of a paper of pins, with a face peeping above each fold. Then he would set us upon the stump of the pine tree while he chopped the trunk and boughs for fuel. He told us that he had promised father to stay until we children should be taken from camp, also that his home was to be with our family forever. One of his amusements was to rake the coals together nights, then cover them with ashes, and put the large camp kettle over the pile for a drum, so that we could spread our hands around it, "to get just a little warm before going to bed."

For the time, he lived at Aunt Betsy's tent, because Solomon Hook was snow-blind and demented, and at times restless and difficult to control. The poor boy, some weeks earlier, had set out alone to reach the settlement, and after an absence of forty-eight hours was found close to camp, blind, and with his mind unbalanced. He, like other wanderers on that desolate waste, had become bewildered, and, unconsciously, circled back near to the starting-point.

Aunt Betsy came often to our tent, and mother frequently went to hers, and they knelt together and asked for strength to bear their burdens. Once, when mother came back, she reported to father that she had discovered bear tracks quite close to camp, and was solicitous that the beast be secured, as its flesh might sustain us until rescued.

As father grew weaker, we children spent more time upon the snow above camp. Often, after his wound was dressed and he fell into a quiet slumber, our ever-busy, thoughtful mother would come to us and sit on the tree trunk. Sometimes she brought paper and wrote; sometimes she sketched the mountains and the tall tree-tops, which now looked like small trees growing up through the snow. And often, while knitting or sewing, she held us spell-bound with wondrous tales of "Joseph in Egypt," of "Daniel in the den of lions," of "Elijah healing the widow's son," of dear little Samuel, who said, "Speak Lord, for Thy servant heareth," and of the tender, loving Master, who took young children in his arms and blessed them.

With me sitting on her lap, and Frances and Georgia at either side, she referred to father's illness and lonely condition, and said that when the next "Relief" came, we little ones might be taken to the settlement, without either parent, but, God willing, both would follow later. Who could be braver or tenderer than she, as she prepared us to go forth with strangers and live without her? While she, without medicine, without lights, would remain and care for our suffering father, in hunger and in cold, and without her little girls to kiss good-morning and good-night. She taught us how to gain friends among those whom we should meet, and what to answer when asked whose children we were.

Often her eyes gazed wistfully to westward, where sky and mountains seemed to meet, and she told us that beyond those snowy peaks lay California, our land of food and safety, our promised land of happiness, where God would care for us. Oh, it was painfully quiet some days in those great mountains, and lonesome upon the snow. The pines had a whispering homesick murmur, and we children had lost all inclination to play.

The last food which I remember seeing in our camp before the arrival of the Second Relief was a thin mould of tallow, which mother had tried out of the trimmings of the jerked beef brought us by the First Relief. She had let it harden in a pan, and after all other rations had given out, she cut daily from it three small white squares for each of us, and we nibbled off the four corners very slowly, and then around and around the edges of the precious pieces until they became too small for us to hold between our fingers.



It was the first of March, about ten days after the arrival of the First Relief, before James Reed and William McCutchen succeeded in reaching the party they had left long months before. They, together with Brit Greenwood, Hiram Miller, Joseph Jondro, Charles Stone, John Turner, Matthew Dofar, Charles Cady, and Nicholas Clark constituted the Second Relief.

They reported having met the First Relief with eighteen refugees at the head of Bear Valley, three having died en route from the cabins. Among the survivors Mr. Reed found his wife, his daughter Virginia, and his son James F. Reed, Jr. He learned there from his anxious wife that their two younger children, Martha J. and Thomas K. Reed, had also left the cabin with her, but had soon given out and been carried back and left at the mountain camp by Messrs. Glover and Moutrey, who then retraced their steps and rejoined the party.

Consequently this Reed-Greenwood party, realizing that this was no time for tarrying, had hurried on to the lake cabins, where Mr. Reed had the happiness of finding his children still alive. There he and five companions encamped upon the snow and fed and soothed the unfortunates. Two members continued on to Aunt Betsy's abode, and Messrs. Cady and Clark came to ours.

This Relief had followed the example of its predecessor in leaving supplies at marked caches along the trail for the return trip. Therefore, it reached camp with a frugal amount for distribution. The first rations were doled out with careful hand, lest harm should come to the famishing through overeating, still, the rescuers administered sufficient to satisfy the fiercest cravings and to give strength for the prospective journey.

While crossing Alder Creek Valley to our tent that first afternoon, Messrs. Cady and Clark had seen fresh tracks of a bear and cubs, and in the evening the latter took one of our guns and went in pursuit of the game which would have been a godsend to us. It was dark when he returned and told my mother that he had wounded the old bear near the camp, but that she had escaped with her young through the pines into a clump of tamarack, and that he would be able to follow her in the morning by the blood-stains on the snow.

Meanwhile, the two men who had come to Aunt Betsy's with food thought it best not to tell her that her son William had died en route to the settlement with the First Relief. They selected from among her children in camp, Solomon, Mary, and Isaac, as able to follow a leader to the lake cabins, and thence to go with the outgoing Second Relief, across the mountains. Hopefully, that mother kissed her three children good-bye, and then wistfully watched them depart with their rescuers on snowshoes. She herself was strong enough to make the journey, but remained because there was no one to help to carry out her two youngest children.

Thirty-one of the company were still in the camps when this party arrived, nearly all of them children, unable to travel without assistance, and the adults were too feeble to give much aid to the little ones upon the snow. Consequently, when my father learned that the Second Relief comprised only ten men, he felt that he himself would never reach the settlement. He was willing to be left alone, and entreated mother to leave him and try to save herself and us children. He reminded her that his life was almost spent, that she could do little for him were she to remain, and that in caring for us children she would be carrying on his work.

She who had to choose between the sacred duties of wife and mother, thought not of self. She looked first at her helpless little children, then into the face of her suffering and helpless husband, and tenderly, unhesitatingly, announced her determination to remain and care for him until both should be rescued, or death should part them.

Perplexities and heartaches multiplied with the morning hours of the following day. Mr. Clark, being anxious to provide more food, started early to hunt the wounded bear. He had not been gone long, when Mr. Stone arrived from the lake cabins and told Mr. Cady that the other members of the Relief had become alarmed at gathering storm clouds, and had resolved to select at once the ablest among the emigrants and hasten with them across the summit, and to leave Clark, Cady, and himself to cut the necessary fuel for the camps, and otherwise assist the sufferers until the Third Relief should reach them.

Cady and Stone, without waiting to inform Clark, promptly decided upon their course of action. They knew the scarcity of provisions in camp, the condition of the trail over the mountains, the probability of long, fierce March storms, and other obstacles which might delay future promised relief, and, terror-stricken, determined to rejoin their party, regardless of opposition, and return to the settlement.

Mother, fearing that we children might not survive another storm in camp, begged Messrs. Cady and Stone to take us with them, offering them five hundred dollars in coin, to deliver us to Elitha and Leanna at Sutter's Fort. The agreement was made, and she collected a few keepsakes and other light articles, which she wished us to have, and which the men seemed more than willing to carry out of the mountains. Then, lovingly, she combed our hair and helped us to dress quickly for the journey. When we were ready, except cloak and hood, she led us to the bedside, and we took leave of father. The men helped us up the steps and stood us up on the snow. She came, put on our cloaks and hoods, saying, as if talking to herself, "I may never see you again, but God will take care of you."

Frances was six years and eight months old and could trudge along quite bravely, but Georgia, who was little more than five, and I, lacking a week of four years, could not do well on the heavy trail, and we were soon taken up and carried. After travelling some distance, the men left us sitting on a blanket upon the snow, and went ahead a short distance where they stopped and talked earnestly with many gesticulations. We watched them, trembling lest they leave us there to freeze. Then Frances said,

"Don't feel afraid. If they go off and leave us, I can lead you back to mother by our foot tracks on the snow."

After a seemingly long time, they returned, picked us up and took us on to one of the lake cabins, where without a parting word, they left us.

The Second Relief Party, of which these men were members, left camp on the third of March. They took with them seventeen refugees—the Breen and Graves families, Solomon Hook, Isaac and Mary Donner, and Martha and Thomas, Mr. Reed's two youngest children.



How can I describe that fateful cabin, which was dark as night to us who had come in from the glare of day? We heard no word of greeting and met no sign of welcome, but were given a dreary resting-place near the foot of the steps, just inside the open doorway, with a bed of branches to lie upon, and a blanket to cover us. After we had been there a short time, we could distinguish persons on other beds of branches, and a man with bushy hair reclining beside a smouldering fire.

Soon a child began to cry, "Give me some bread. Oh, give me some meat!"

Then another took up the same pitiful wail. It continued so long that I wept in sympathy, and fastened my arms tightly around my sister Frances' neck and hid my eyes against her shoulder. Still I heard that hungry cry, until a husky voice shouted,

"Be quiet, you crying children, or I'll shoot you."

But the silence was again and again broken by that heart-rending plea, and again and again were the voices hushed by the same terrifying threat. And we three, fresh from our loving mother's embrace, believed the awful menace no vain threat.

We were cold, and too frightened to feel hungry, nor were we offered food that night, but next morning Mr. Reed's little daughter Mattie appeared carrying in her apron a number of newly baked biscuits which her father had just taken from the hot ashes of his camp fire. Joyfully she handed one to each inmate of the cabin, then departed to join those ready to set forth on the journey to the settlement. Few can know how delicious those biscuits tasted, and how carefully we caught each dropping crumb. The place seemed drearier after their giver left us, yet we were glad that her father was taking her to her mother in California.

Soon the great storm which had been lowering broke upon us. We were not exposed to its fury as were those who had just gone from us, but we knew when it came, for snow drifted down upon our bed and had to be scraped off before we could rise. We were not allowed near the fire and spent most of our time on our bed of branches.

Dear, kind Mrs. Murphy, who for months had taken care of her own son Simon, and her grandson George Foster, and little James Eddy, gave us a share of her motherly attention, and tried to feed and comfort us. Affliction and famine, however, had well nigh sapped her strength and by the time those plaintive voices ceased to cry for bread and meat, her willing hands were too weakened to do much for us.

I remember being awakened while there by two little arms clasped suddenly and tightly about me, and I heard Frances say,

"No, she shall not go with you. You want to kill her!"

Near us stood Keseberg, the man with the bushy hair. In limping past our sleeping place, he had stopped and said something about taking me away with him, which so frightened my sisters that they believed my life in danger, and would not let me move beyond their reach while we remained in that dungeon. We spoke in whispers, suffered as much as the starving children in Joseph's time, and were more afraid than Daniel in the den of lions.

How long the storm had lasted, we did not know, nor how many days we had been there. We were forlorn as children can possibly be, when Simon Murphy, who was older than Frances, climbed to his usual "look out" on the snow above the cabin to see if any help were coming. He returned to us, stammering in his eagerness:

"I seen—a woman—on snow shoes—coming from the other camp! She's a little woman—like Mrs. Donner. She is not looking this way—and may pass!"

Hardly had he spoken her name, before we had gathered around him and were imploring him to hurry back and call our mother. We were too excited to follow him up the steps.

She came to us quickly, with all the tenderness and courage needed to lessen our troubles and soften our fears. Oh, how glad we were to see her, and how thankful she appeared to be with us once more! We heard it in her voice and saw it in her face; and when we begged her not to leave us, she could not answer, but clasped us closer to her bosom, kissed us anew for father's sake, then told how the storm had distressed them. Often had they hoped that we had reached the cabins too late to join the Relief—then in grieving anguish felt that we had, and might not live to cross the summit.

She had watched the fall of snow, and measured its depth; had seen it drift between the two camps making the way so treacherous that no one had dared to cross it until the day before her own coming; then she induced Mr. Clark to try to ascertain if Messrs. Cady and Stone had really got us to the cabins in time to go with the Second Relief.

We did not see Mr. Clark, but he had peered in, taken observations, and returned by nightfall and described to her our condition.

John Baptiste had promised to care for father in her absence. She left our tent in the morning as early as she could see the way. She must have stayed with us over night, for I went to sleep in her arms, and they were still around me when I awoke; and it seemed like a new day, for we had time for many cherished talks. She veiled from us the ghastliness of death, telling us Aunt Betsy and both our little cousins had gone to heaven. She said Lewis had been first to go, and his mother had soon followed; that she herself had carried little Sammie from his sick mother's tent to ours the very day we three were taken away; and in order to keep him warm while the storm raged, she had laid him close to father's side, and that he had stayed with them until "day before yesterday."

I asked her if Sammie had cried for bread. She replied, "No, he was not hungry, for your mother saved two of those little biscuits which the relief party brought, and every day she soaked a tiny piece in water and fed him all he would eat, and there is still half a biscuit left."

How big that half-biscuit seemed to me! I wondered why she had not brought at least a part of it to us. While she was talking with Mrs. Murphy, I could not get it out of my mind. I could see that broken half-biscuit, with its ragged edges, and knew that if I had a piece, I would nibble off the rough points first. The longer I waited, the more I wanted it. Finally, I slipped my arm around mother's neck, drew her face close to mine and whispered,

"What are you going to do with the half-biscuit you saved?"

"I am keeping it for your sick father," she answered, drawing me closer to her side, laying her comforting cheek against mine, letting my arm keep its place, and my fingers stroke her hair.

The two women were still talking in subdued tones, pouring the oil of sympathy into each others' gaping wounds. Neither heard the sound of feet on the snow above; neither knew that the Third Relief Party was at hand, until Mr. Eddy and Mr. Foster came down the steps, and each asked anxiously of Mrs. Murphy, "Where is my boy?"

Each received the same sorrowful answer—"Dead."



It will be remembered that Mr. Eddy, being ill, was dropped out of the First Relief at Mule Springs in February, and sent back to Johnson's Ranch to await the return of this party, which had promised to bring out his family. Who can realize his distress when it returned with eighteen refugees, and informed him that his wife and little Maggie had perished before it reached the camps, and that it had been obliged to leave his baby there in care of Mrs. Murphy?

Disappointed and aggrieved, the afflicted father immediately set out on horseback, hoping that he would meet his child on the trail in charge of the Second Relief, which it seemed reasonable to expect would follow closely in the footsteps of the first. He was accompanied by Mr. Foster, of the Forlorn Hope, who had been forced to leave his own little son at the camp in charge of Mrs. Murphy, its grandmother.

On the evening of the second day, the two reached Woodworth's camp, established as a relay station pursuant to the general plan of rescue originally adopted. They found the midshipman in snug quarters with several men to do his bidding. He explained that the lack of competent guides had prevented his venturing among the snow peaks. Whereupon, Mr. Eddy earnestly assured him that the trail of those who had already gone up outlined the way.

After much deliberation, Woodworth and his men agreed to start out next morning for the mountain camps, but tried to dissuade Mr. Eddy from accompanying them on account of his apparent depleted condition. Nevertheless both he and Mr. Foster remained firm, and with the party, left the relay camp, crossed the low foothills and encamped for the night on the Yuba River.

At dusk, Woodworth was surprised by the arrival of two forlorn-looking individuals, whom he recognized as members of the Reed-Greenwood Relief, which had gone up the mountain late in February and was overdue. The two implored food for themselves, also for their seven companions and three refugees, a mile back on the trail, unable to come farther.

When somewhat refreshed, they were able to go more into detail, and the following explanation of their plight was elicited:

"One of our men, Clark, is at Donner's Camp, and the other nine of us left the cabins near the lake on the third of March, with seventeen of the starving emigrants. The storm caught us as we crossed the summit, and ten miles below, drove us into camp. It got so bad and lasted so long that our provisions gave out, and we almost froze to death cutting wood. We all worked at keeping the fires until we were completely exhausted, then seeing no prospects of help coming to us, we left, and made our way down here, bringing Reed's two children and Solomon Hook, who said he could and would walk. The other fourteen that we brought over the summit are up there at what we call Starved Camp. Some are dead, the rest without food."

Woodworth and two followers went at once with provisions to the near-by sufferers, and later brought them down to camp.

Messrs. Reed and Greenwood stated that every available means had been tried by them to get the seventeen unfortunates well over the summit before the great storm reached its height. They said the physical condition of the refugees was such, from the very start, that no persuasion, nor warnings, nor threats could quicken their feeble steps. All but three of the number were children, with their hands and feet more or less frozen. Worse still, the caches on which the party had relied for sustenance had been robbed by wild animals, and the severity of the storm had forced all into camp, with nothing more than a breastwork of brush to shelter them. Mrs. Elisabeth Graves died the first night, leaving to the party the hopeless task of caring for her emaciated babe in arms, and her three other children between the ages of nine and five years. Soon, however, the five-year-old followed his mother, and the number of starving was again lessened on the third night when Isaac Donner went to sleep beside his sister and did not waken. The storm had continued so furiously that it was impossible to bury the dead. Days and nights were spent in steadfast struggling against the threatening inevitable, before the party gave up; and Greenwood and Reed, taking the two Reed children and also Solomon Hook, who walked, started down the mountain, hoping to save their own lives and perhaps get fresh men to complete the pitiful work which they had been forced to abandon.

When Messrs. Reed and Greenwood closed their account of the terrible physical and mental strain their party had undergone, "Mr. Woodworth asked his own men of the relay camp, if they would go with him to rescue those unfortunates at 'Starved Camp,' and received an answer in the negative."[10]

The following morning there was an earnest consultation, and so hazardous seemed the trail and the work to be done that for a time all except Eddy and Foster refused to go farther. Finally, John Stark stepped forward, saying,

"Gentlemen, I am ready to go and do what I can for those sufferers, without promise of pay."

By guaranteeing three dollars per day to any man who would get supplies to the mountain camps, and fifty dollars in addition to each man who should carry a helpless child, not his own, back to the settlement, Mr. Eddy[11] secured the services of Hiram Miller, who had just come down with the Second Relief; and Mr. Foster hired, on the same terms, Mr. Thompson from the relay camp. Mr. Woodworth offered like inducements, on Government account, to the rest of his men, and before the morning was far advanced, with William H. Eddy acting as leader, William Foster, Hiram Miller, Mr. Thompson, John Stark, Howard Oakley, and Charles Stone (who had left us little ones at the lake camp) shouldered their packs and began the ascent.

Meanwhile how fared it at Starved Camp? Mr. and Mrs. Breen being left there with their own five suffering children and the four other poor, moaning little waifs, were tortured by situations too heart-rending for description, too pitiful to seem true. Suffice it to relate that Mrs. Breen shared with baby Graves the last lump of loaf sugar and the last drops of tea, of that which she had denied herself and had hoarded for her own babe. When this was gone, with quivering lips she and her husband repeated the litany and prayed for strength to meet the ordeal,—then, turning to the unburied dead, they resorted to the only means left to save the nine helpless little ones.

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