Donner Party Bulletin
On January 26, 1850, Chester S. Lyman, a young clergyman, was in San Jose visiting California’s first governor. Lyman recorded in his diary:
While at Govr [Peter H.] Burnetts was called out by Mr Senator Douglass and John Murphy & requested to go immediately & marry Murphy & Miss Virginia Reed. Knowing the violent opposition of the parents, declined. They went for the Lieut Gov. McDougall, & married themselves before witnesses at Cooks. An exciting time. Reed had threatened to shoot Murphy. They rode to the Mission and spent the night.1
A more detailed and romanticized version of the event was published in Springfield, Illinois, the bride’s home town:
Marriage in High Life
Last week there occurred at our seat of
of those interesting instances of romance in real life the recital of
which always meets with ready attention.
Chester S. Around the Horn to the Sandwich Islands and California,
1845-1850. Ed. Frederick J. Teggart. (Freeport, NY: Books for
Libraries Press, 1971), p. 305
Their sufferings were too severe for recital – Murphy was a bold noble
hearted mountaineer, and Miss Reed has subsequently become the belle of
San Jose. An attachment sprang up between the parties while on their
journey. This attachment was at first encouraged on the part of the
parents; but subsequently was disapproved of, and Murphy was prohibited
the house.4 As is very natural this
procedure only increased the attachment, which has been going on
strengthening for the last three years.
As the months passed on the impatience of the parties to have the marriage concluded increased. Finally, on Friday of last week Murphy met Reed in the street, and as a gentleman should, informed Reed of the determination of Miss Reed and himself to become married, and requested his full consent. Reed responded that he should not give his consent, and, moreover, that he would shoot Murphy if he dared attempt a marriage. Murphy responded – "Sir, you may shoot me; I shall not shoot you, but I shall marry your daughter – I give you fair warning." Of course the Reeds were on the alert.
On the next evening, Miss Reed got up to go out of the house, telling her mother, on inquiry, that she was only going across the street to call on Mrs. J– , who was at that moment slightly unwell. Her mother requested her not to be gone long, and she promised to return in a few moments.
On arriving at Mrs. J– ’s she informed that lady of her desire to be married at that time. – Murphy was immediately sent for. But unfortunately no clergyman could be found who would perform the ceremony. Time was rapidly flying. The mother was awaiting Miss Reed’s return, and delay would arouse suspicions. Should Reed appear, what would ensue. The bride was like an aspen leaf, for fear that the affair would be stopped. Murphy stood armed – cool and courageous. A few of his friends, also armed, were watching around the house lest Reed should gain admission before the ceremony
4 The reason for the Reeds’ opposition to the match is unclear; Virginia’s youth and the fact that Murphy was a Roman Catholic may have been factors.
|Donner Party Bulletin No. 12|
pe[r]formed. The whole affair, at this critical juncture, is described
to us as having been most intensely exciting. Finding no other
alternative, it was at last agreed upon that in the absence of the
proper authorities, the parties should solemnize the marriage themselves
formally before witnesses, by declaring, each to the other, their fixed
determination to become at that time, and to remain forever, man and
The interest became thrilling. The point of time had at last arrived. The advent of Reed would have snatched the prize they were both just ready and so eager to grasp.
There was a dead silence. The bridegroom commence the ceremony, promising "to love, honor and keep." Still Reed delayed his coming. The beauty and anxiety of the bride – the calmness and noble bearing of the bridegroom – the pain of suspense, al contributed to heighten the intense interest of the scene. The witnesses were breathless. The bridegroom’s low, determined, slowly and carefully spoken words ceased. Still Reed delayed his coming.
There was a slight pause. The bride was agitated. At last she commence[d]. Her words were tremblingly and hurriedly enunciated, and she stopped in the middle of her part. It was a silent as death, outside the house. Still Reed delayed his coming. The bride was prompted, resumed, and, at last, the ceremony was completed. That which they had long and ardently desired, – that which they had looked forward to with scarce a hope of success, was now consummated. They were man and wife.
Horses were ready at the door. They stopped for a few hurried congratulations, mounted and were off.
Not three minutes from that time, Reed heard that the thing was done. Horses were procured, and they pushed off in full chase; not the victors but the vanquished. They headed for Murphy’s ranch, about eighteen miles distant. But they found they were out-generaled from beginning to end. The bird was not there. Murphy, instead of going to his ranch, drove only three miles out of the city in an opposite direction, and there rested in security.
—Illinois Journal (Springfield, Ill.), April 16, 1850.
The murder of Mary Graves’ first husband caused quite a stir in San Jose and was long remembered. The following contemporary account is undoubtedly the most accurate:
Astounding Disclosure.—A man named Antonio Valencia was
recently arrested and taken before his honor, Judge Kimball H. Dimmick,
at the Pueblo de San Jose, charged with the murder of a man named Edward
Piles [sic], who has been missing since May, 1848. On
examination, Valencia confessed that he had murdered Piles, by dragging
him a hundred yards with a lasso, and then cutting his throat; after
which, he buried him. When our informant left, a party had started in
search of the remains of the murdered man. Valencia was to be tried on
the 9th last.
—Alta California (San Francisco), May 10, 1849.
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