Tuesday I left Sparks, Nevada to head west towards San Francisco. Shortly after I crossed back in to California I stopped at this rest area along the dreaded interstate. I knew this was going to be along my route this year and wanted to get more information.
Let’s talk about the Donner Party. Actually, first let’s talk about me.
For those of you who don’t know, my last name is Dahnert. Our family prefers to pronounce our name DAY-nert. The most common mispronunciation is the result of people transposing the h and the n, making it DAN-hurt. Another variation is DAHH-nert, which is also technically correct. DAHH-nert <–> Donner, Donner <–> DAHH-nert. Hmmmmm….
The area I was in Tuesday morning, near Truckee, California, was near the site of the demise of much of the Donner Party in the winter of 1846-47. The group (actually consisting largely of the Donner and Reed families) started their ill-fated trek west from Independence, Missouri in Mid-May of 1846. They were partially doomed by starting about a month later than they probably should have, given the distance they were traveling, and the fact that they decided to take the untested “Hastings Cutoff” shortcut, which Mr. Hastings hadn’t even tried. One of the journals later found contained this quote from one of the members of the group: “I am beginning to feel alarmed at the tardiness of our movements”.
They became stranded in a huge, early snowstorm near Truckee Lake (now Donner Lake). Some in the group felt they had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. Of the 87 people who started the journey, only 48 survived (although most who were lost were to illness, exposure and other factors, not from being eaten). Another quote found in one of the journals: “Mrs. Murphy said here yesterday that [she] thought she would commence on Milt and eat him. I don’t [think] she had done so, yet it is distressing”.
There are actually many things in this area named after the Donner family – the rest area I was at, the lake, the Pass, a ski area, a state park, etc.
I suppose if this had happened across the state line in Nevada there would even be a Donner Casino (I’d be very careful what you select from the “All-You-Can-Eat Buffet”… Personally, I think I’d stick to the salad bar).
I didn’t venture off to see any of the other Donner sites, as I was traveling my myself and wouldn’t have anyone, pardon me, I mean anything to eat if I became lost.
I am making jokes but this was actually a serious, sad chapter in American history.