|Fig 1: The first of many traffic jams in California history.|
*cue the dramatic music*
|Fig.2: Obviously not the way to go...|
But then they got some bad advice from an explorer named Lansford Hastings, who proposed that the party should ignore their GPS and diverge south of the traditional trail, claiming it would take 350 miles off their journey. Donner and another man in the party, James Reed, agreed and the group headed through the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. It turned out to be a pretty bad idea, with the trail covered in mountains, boulders, deserts, Natives, and annoying parakoopas. There wasn't even any buffalo to shoot and then not be able to carry all the meat home! Instead of the two-week-journey claimed by Hastings, the party wasted six whole weeks trekking through Utah, which is five weeks, six days, and twenty-three hours longer than I'd ever want to trek through Utah. And this, ladies, is why men never want to ask for directions.
|Fig.3: Charles Stanton, one of the casualties of the "Forlorn Hope," and a rather tasty-looking morsel, if I do say so myself...|
Back at the camp, things weren't going much better. George Donner developed gangrene in his arm, the oxhides that served as roofs to their makeshift cabins had to be eventually eaten, and James Reed's wife, Margret, broke a nail fashioning herself a new hairpin. Many began to die, but no one came up with the bright idea of eating the bodies just yet. A rescue party in California was difficult to muster since most able-bodied men were in Mexico kicking butt on the battlefield and teaching them to play baseball (which they would eventually come to kick our butts in). Eventually, a seven-man rescue party reached Truckee Lake on February 18, 1847 to find 56 men, women, and children still alive. They were able to take 23 people back to the nearest village of Sacramento; before they left the remaining party, the rescue team joked, "Now don't you guys start eating each other, ya hear?" The Donner Party laughed awkwardly, but the idea was put into their heads.
|Fig.4: It's a downward slope from |
eating manflesh to becoming a
In the end, 48 of the 87 who began the journey survived. Among the dead were George and Tamsen Donner, who are memorialized by forever having their last name associated with cannibalism. Many of the survivors, including the Donner children, went on to do interviews and write their own accounts of the journey, which has been sensationalized over the years. Quite frankly, the Donner Party, with its 55% survival rate, is a rather insignificant episode of American westward migration, as other large pioneer groups have been completely wiped out due to weather, disease, attacks from Native Americans, and not waiting an hour to swim after eating lunch. But it is the admitted details of cannibalism that make the Donner Party the most known group of pioneers in American history. The site of their camp in the Sierra Nevada is now Donner Memorial State Park, Truckee Lake has been renamed Donner Lake, and for what I can only see as a slap in the face, they built Interstate 80 right through the pass that was snowed in and prevented the completion of their journey to the coast (fig.5).
|Fig.5: If only this four-lane highway was built 100 years earlier, no one |
would've been eaten. Thanks a lot, Alan S. Hart...whoever you are...