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The Eddy Family
[Donner Party Roster] [Rescuers and Others]

Of the four members of the Eddy family, only one, the father, survived. In mid-December 1846, William Eddy set off to seek help, leaving his wife and two small children behind; when he returned three months later with a relief party, all three were dead.

William Henry Eddy

A carriage-maker from Belleville, Illinois.
Age: [28]

Parents: Nathan Eddy and ?

b. abt 1816 in Providence, Rhode Island
m1. abt 1841 to Eleanor Priscilla—
Ch: James, Margaret
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."
     Eddy’s 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 family.
     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 Eddy’s 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, Eddy’s 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, Georgia, and 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.

Eleanor Priscilla —

Wife of William Henry Eddy
Age: [25]

b. abt 1820
m. abt 1841 to William Henry Eddy
Ch: James, Margaret
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 husband’s life, for he told Thornton that on December 23, 1846, he lightened his pack:

In doing this, he found about half a pound of bear’s 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 Priscilla—
Age: [3]

     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.

Margaret Eddy

Daughter of William Henry Eddy and Eleanor Priscilla—
Age: [1]

     Margaret died on February 4, 1847, her mother died three days later. They were buried together in the snow.

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