By Marian Calabro

The Journey to California

April 15, 1846 was the day three extended families including the Reeds and Donners left Springfield, Illinois forever. Their goal was to get to California because of all the free land. They called themselves The Donner Party. The self-elected leader of the Donner Party, James Reed was not ready for what he was about to lead them into. Everything went smoothley and according to plan for the members of the Donner Party until July 20 when James Reed decided to lead them into the Hastings cutoff, a supposed shortcut. He would soon realize that was the biggest mistake of his life.

The First Loss, and the Downward Spiral

One of the first losses was Luke Hallorn, a bachelor who died of consumption on August 25 in the Wasatch Mountains. His death was a symbol of much more to come. In the Great Salt Lake Desert, the search for water was desperate. Several people died of dehydration here. Also they were almost out of oxen to pull their wagons. The final resting place for more than half of the remaining Donner Party was Truckee Lake, buried under more than 20 feet of snow. There was no food left at all, and people had started eating their houses. The Donner Party desperately needed a food source to stay alive, so they started eating their dead. Finally on February 18 the rescuers came. When they handed out food five year old Jimmy Breen ate so fast he died painfully trying to digest his food. All of the rescued Donner Party members made it to California, and lived the rest of their lives trying to come to terms with what they had endured.

word definitions


verb (used with object) 1. to hold out against; sustain without impairment or yielding; undergo:


having an urgent need, desire, etc.:



the act of consuming, as by use, decay, or destruction.


verb (used with object)


to cause to be shortened by the use of a shortcut.

chosen by yourself to lead something