2020-2021_Nevada County Gold

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An in depth introduction to Historic Nevada County, California including Grass Valley, Nevada City, Penn Valley, Truckee and Sierra County.

Donner Party

historY In the Gold Country

Sierra Proved

Deadly For

Early Pioneers

Est ablished California Route

MINERS WERE NOT THE ONLY

pioneers to make the difficult

trip to California. Before gold

was discovered there were those who

set out across the plains to make new

lives for themselves in the west.

One such party included brothers George

and Jacob Donner, who along with other

families began their journey in 1846. Along

the way, they merged with another wagon

train, but as fate would have it, split off

when encouraged to follow a new route

called the Hastings Cutoff thus bypassing

established trails. George Donner was

elected wagon master.

The decision became a disaster. They had to

hack a road through mountains, were forced to

abandon some wagons, and crossing the Great

Salt Lake Desert was extremely challenging.

Supplies were running low.

They reached Truckee Meadows near Reno in

late October and found some relief when one

of their party, who had been sent ahead to

Sutter’s Fort, arrived with supplies. The bad

news, a difficult mountain crossing was ahead.

Already behind schedule by several weeks, the

exhausted group decided to rest for almost a

week. This further delay would prove fatal, for

snow came early to the Sierra that year.

Rested, they pushed on. George Donner’s

wagon broke down at Alder Creek near

Truckee, and his party had to stay behind. The

rest made it to Donner Lake, but snow kept

them from reaching the pass. The continuing

snow forced them to make camp at the lake.

Cabins were built, and they settled in for

the winter.

But, by mid-December, they were desperate for

supplies, and a party of 15 departed on homemade

snowshoes determined to reach Sutter’s

Fort 100 miles away. Under extreme conditions

those who survived the trip were forced to live

off the bodies of those who died. Only seven

made it to safety.

Two relief parties were formed, and on February

19, the first one reached the lake with limited

supplies due to heavy snow. They took out 23

Hasting s Cutoff

survivors, but most were too weak to make it,

and 20 were left at what was to become known

as “Starved Camp.”

The third relief party reached the camp March

12, and then went on to the lake and Donner’s

camp on Alder Creek. George Donner was

dying, and although healthy, his wife insisted

on staying. The relief party also had to leave

behind those too weak to travel.

A fourth rescue party set out in March, was

stranded by a snow storm and finally reached

the lake to find just one survivor. He arrived at

Sutter’s Fort on April 29, 1847.

In the end, 42 members of the Donner Party

died, 41 survived. Sadly, survivors were

reduced to cannibalism in the camps

and as they crossed the

Sierra Nevada.

It should be noted

that the group which

followed the traditional

route arrived safely

at their intended

destination in

California.

Donner Camp

Picnic Area

Interpretive

Trail

Learn More

DONNER MEMORIAL

STATE PARK VISITOR

CENTER

Exhibit on Donner Party

& video.

Located on Donner Pass

Road off I-80 near Truckee.

(530) 582-7892

DONNER CAMP

PICNIC AREA

Site of Donner Family Camp.

Interpretive trail.

Hwy. 89 North, 4 miles north

of Truckee

A 10 minute drive from

the State Park.

LEATRICE ERICKSON

NEVADACOUNTYGOLD.com | 121

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