|William Henry Eddy
carriage-maker from Belleville, Illinois.
Parents: Nathan Eddy and ?
b. abt 1816 in Providence, Rhode Island
m1. abt 1841 to Eleanor
m2. 1848 at Gilroy, Santa Clara Co., CA to Flavilla
Ingersoll (b. 18 Dec 1826, Plattsburg, Clinton Co., New York; d. 29 Feb
1920 Plainfield, Will Co., Illinois)
Ch.: Eleanor Priscilla, James Knox Polk., Alonzo Hensley.
m3. A.M. Pardee
d. 24 Dec 1859 in Petaluma, Sonoma Co., CA
Eddy is referred to as "William H. Eddy" in
the literature of the Donner Party. The middle initial
has been taken to stand for "Henry," for his
obituary in a Petaluma newspaper refers to him as
"Henry Eddy." Some researchers, however, believe
that the "H." may stand for "Harvey."
Eddys background is mysterious. He told J. Quinn
Thornton that he was a from Belleville, Illinois, but apparently he had lived there only a few years before
setting out for California with his wife Eleanor and two small children. Since he is widely regarded
as a hero of the Donner Party, descendants of various
Eddy families have attempted to establish a relationship
between him and their own lineage, but so
far, no one has been able to find a definite link
between William Eddy of the Donner Party and any other Eddy
Thornton interviewed survivors and rescuers of the
Donner Party in the fall of 1847. His main informant, and
the only one he specifically names, was W. H. Eddy. The late Joseph A.
King pointed out that some survivors did not think
well of Eddys veracity and referred to him as "Lying Eddy"
but King neglected the testimony of Eleanor Graves, who thought Eddy’s
account straightforward and credible. Like all
memoirs, Eddys version of events is self-serving; he
exaggerated his role and in certain instances he
represented himself as participating in events which he
had probably only heard about. This does not mean that
everything he told Thornton was false, however, only that
it should be taken with a grain of salt. For an example
of the problems with King's case against Eddy, see Eddy and
the deer. Despite his occasional exaggerations, it appears that Eddy was a
good hunter, that his resourcefulness got the Forlorn
Hope out of the mountains, and that he was physically
the most hardy of the snowshoers.
At Donner Lake Eddy and
William Foster built
the Murphy cabin against a large rock, now marked with a
bronze plaque, which
was inhabited by the Murphy extended family and
the Eddys. Eddy was the only member of the Donner Party recorded as
having any success hunting. In November, with a borrowed gun, he killed
an owl, a coyote, a bear, three ducks, and a squirrel, most of which he
shared with the Murphys and others.
On December 16, William Eddy bade
Eleanor an emotional
farewell and set off with sixteen others -- the "Forlorn
Hope" -- from the Donner Lake camp on snowshoes. Two turned back the
first day, but Eddy, eight other men, a boy, and five young women
continued. After a harrowing month-long journey in which members of the
Donner Party first resorted to cannibalism, William Eddy staggered into
Johnson's Ranch west of the Sierra, assisted by an Indian. He told the
small American community that his six surviving companions were at
an Indian village and that there were more starving emigrants back in
the mountains. The settlers fetched in the remnants of the Forlorn Hope
and began to organize a rescue party.
After less than three weeks' recuperation, Eddy was
able to accompany the First Relief as far as the foothills, but was not
yet strong enough to travel back to Donner Lake.
He and Foster, both of whom had left family members behind,
later led the Third Relief to the lake camp, arriving about March 13, 1847. The last
surviving member of Eddy's family, little James, had died, and there
were only a handful of people remaining alive at the camps. The Third
Relief rescued four children,
Simon Murphy and Frances,
Eliza Donner. Years later
Eliza and Georgia both remembered Eddy's kindness to them. Georgia
wrote, "I have been told that Mr. Eddy was not a truthful man, but he
certainly was a kind-hearted man, and to his tender care I owe my life."
Eddy remained in the vicinity of Sutter's Fort
until June 1847; at some point later that year he moved to Santa Clara
County. His name appears often in the county's early historical sources.
He married again and had three children, but this marriage ended in divorce.
Eddy's third wife apparently taught a school in Petaluma, Sonoma County,
where Eddy died on Christmas Eve 1859. His obituary read:
- DIED. In this city, 24th. ult., HENRY EDDY, late of
Mass., a pioneer of 1846, and well known as the rescuer
of the "Donner party," aged 43. [San Francisco,
St. Louis and Mass. papers please copy.] -- Sonoma County Journal
(Petaluma, California) January 6, 1860.
On December 3, 1877, Eddy's remains were reinterred in his daughter
Eleanor P. Eddy Anderson's plot in San Jose's Oak Hill Cemetery. Years
later, on May 30, 1949 -- Memorial Day -- the fraternal order E
Clampus Vitus marked his
grave with a
granite stone from Donner Lake bearing a bronze medallion.
Wife of William
b. abt 1820
m. abt 1841 to William Henry Eddy
d. 7 Feb 1847 at the Murphy cabin.
Almost nothing is known about Mrs. Eddy, although a
photograph of her survives.
When her husband left with the First Relief, Eleanor
stayed behind with the children in the Murphy cabin. Her foresightedness may have saved her
husbands life, for he told Thornton that on December
23, 1846, he lightened his pack:
- In doing this, he found about half a pound of
bears meat, to which was attached a paper
upon which his wife had written in pencil, a note
signed "Your own dear Eleanor," in
which she requested him to save it for the last
extremity, and expressed the opinion that it
would be the means of saving his life. This was
really the case, for without it, he must
subsequently have perished.
Patrick Breen recorded the Eddy family’s decline
in his diary: February 5, 1847, "Eddys
child died last night"; on the 6th, "Mrs Eddy
very weak"; on the 8th, "Mrs Eddy died on the
night of the 7th"; and on February 9, "John
went down to day to bury Mrs Eddy & child."
James P. Eddy
Son of William
Henry Eddy and Eleanor
James Eddy was tended by
Levinah Murphy after his
mother died. When J. F. Reed arrived with the Second
Relief on March 1, James was still alive, though in bad
shape. He died before his father arrived with the Third
Relief on March 13.
Daughter of William
Henry Eddy and Eleanor
Margaret died on February 4, 1847, her mother died
three days later. They were buried together in the snow.