Western Frontier Assesment

Kendra McCarter

These are pictures from the Perilous Journey of the Donner Party.

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When throughout history has the cost of enlarging a nation overridden the value of human life?

Lansford Hastings wanted to create a path to California from Illinois. He had told 7,000+ families that he had taken the route and that it was completely safe, he lied. He had never taken that route ever, he just assumed that it was okay. Everybody in Springfield, IL was told that they should go to the west to help him take over California. That was not the only reason some families moved west. Some moved because of job offerings, some thought a better life in California, and others thought there would be better weather for their sick family members. Those families decided to trust this stranger and take his path to a new life.


On the journey, all of these families were traveling west when they find a note from Hastings. The note had said that he had found a cutoff to get to California faster. It promised to save them 400 - 530 miles. Only 87 people were daring enough to take that path. Little did they know only half of them would survive. They began to run out of food and they had to start conserving their meat and combine it with things like leaves, bark, hides, twigs, etc. Eventually, they completely ran out of food and starved for a few days until somebody mentioned eating each other as they were sitting around a fire. The value of human life had been overridden. Most of them got so desperate to the point where they partook in cannibalism. Nobody in the Donner Party had the heart to kill their family, friends, and acquaintances. They waited until somebody died of an illness, the temperature/climate, hunger, or went so insane and delirious that they died. There was a tomb that held the dead and dying. Somebody would light a fire, take a body out, and start roasting the human flesh. This entire trip had not become just expanding west, it had become survival.

The Donner Party was the group of 87 people that took Hastings’s Cutoff. The group that had eaten each other. The group who had been desperate. Lansford Hastings wanted them to go to California to help him rule his own empire. That didn’t work and he ended up attempting to take over Russia. That also didn’t work. Human beings were eaten by other human beings while expanding westward. The value of human life had meant nothing. It was just taking the life of others so another could survive.
The Donner Party