Western Frontier Project

Sam Chiu

The Tragic Story of the Donner Party

There have been many times throughout history, many people’s life have been the cost of expanding. The Donner Party is a tragic story of many people losing their lives. It started when Lansford Hastings wanted people living on the West Coast very urgently. He told everyone on the East side to take a cutoff that he had never taken before. Although the cutoff did not make anything easier or shorter, but it could have gotten them through. Only if they did not stay and camp on the mountains.

The Donner Party had already started traveling in Spring. The month was April. The families had been traveling with seven thousand other people in their wagons. Most of the seven thousand had gone right. Only twenty of the wagons had gone left, taking Hastings cutoff. In the end there were eighty seven people taking the cutoff. The people went through troubling disasters. They were stuck in a muddy terrain for a few days, having to go through the Great Salt Lake Desert without any food or water after the first day their supplies ran out. Suffering through hot days and freezing nights. Staying in the mountains during winter. There was snow on the mountain tops. They decided to stop for a day when they got really close. They had five days left for fifty miles. They could have traveled ten miles per day or travel a day ahead. This was in the month of November.

The Donner Party had completely ran out of food and water. The Reed and Breen family had been caught at Truckee Lake, making makeshift cabins out of their wagons. The Donner Party was stuck six miles behind in the cold. Stuck in the cold winter for a few months, the only thing they could do to survive was resort to cannibalism. They had people come rescue them within the course of January and March by relief parties. It had taken them a year whole to make the whole trip. Out of the eighty seven people that had taken Hastings Cutoff, only forty six people had survived. Forty one of the people had died. All the deaths were due to wanting people to populate other parts of the country.


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The Donner Party: A Quick History