farmer from Jackson Co., Missouri
Parents: James McCutchen (b. abt 1771 in VA) and
Elizabeth Deane (b. abt 1775 in VA)
b. abt 1816 in Davidson Co., TN
m.1 abt 1842 in Pettis Co., MO to Amanda Henderson
James, John, Thomas, Edward
m.2 1860 Ruth A. Reeves (b. abt 1820 in New York)
d. 17 Apr 1895 Gilroy, Santa Clara Co., CA
J. Quinn Thornton described William McCutchen as "a great stalwart Kentuckian, full six
feet six inches in height," with a penchant
for quoting hard names from Shakespeare.
After crossing the Salt Desert, the Donner Party took
stock of their supplies and realized that they did not
have enough to see them through to California. Two
volunteers set out, little Charles Stanton (5'5") and "Big Bill" McCutchen (6'6"). McCutchen became ill after arriving at
Sutters Fort, and Stanton returned with supplies.
McCutchen and James F. Reed made an abortive attempt to rescue
their trapped families in November, but were forced to
return because of the deep snow. The two fathers did
succeed in February, leading the Second Relief to the
At first the McCutchens lived near Sonoma, but in 1848
they moved to Santa Clara County, living first at San Jose
and later at Gilroy. William is mentioned frequently in the
early history of the county. In September 1853 he was
elected sheriff, beating out Mary and
future husband, S. O. Houghton. Houghton was later
elected mayor and in that capacity once fined McCutchen
for riding a race on the Sabbath in the streets of San
Jose. See also
William McCutchen and Joan Stuckys McCutchen
Amanda McCutchen died in childbirth in 1857; her
widower remarried in 1860. In 1871, the Pacific Rural Press published an
article about the Donner Party that represented Reed and
McCutchen in an unfavorable light. The two men responded,
Reed with a lengthy memoir and McCutchen with a shorter
statement. (Both in Unfortunate Emigrants.)
McCutchen died after a stroke in 1895. Like his
old companions, James F. Reed and
William Eddy, he rests in
Oak Hill Cemetery in San Jose.
Wife of William
b. abt 1822
m. abt 1842 in Pettis Co., MO to William
James, John, Thomas, Edward
d. 10 Nov 1857 in Santa Clara Co., CA
Amanda was one of the hardy young women who survived
the Forlorn Hope. On December 16, 1846, she left her
daughter Harriet with the Graves family and set out for
While living at Sonoma with the Brunners,
Houghton recalled wearing "a dark calico dress and
sunbonnet, both made by poor Mrs. McCutchen of the Donner
Party, who had to take in sewing for a livelihood."
Amanda died giving birth to her son Edward. William, left with three
other children to tend, could not cope with a newborn, so Edward spent
the first several years of his life with the attending physician and his
wife, taking their name, "Johnson," as his middle name in gratitude.
Daughter of William
McCutchen and Amanda Henderson
Harriets exact age is not known, but she was
probably between one and two years old. McGlashan lists
her as one of the nursing infants of the Donner Party;
Mary Graves wrote that her little sister
Harriet were about the same age.
When Amanda went with the Forlorn Hope, she left
Harriet with the Graveses. The child suffered terribly,
tormented by lice, before she died on February 2.
Reed Lewis, who had lived in the adjoining Reed cabin,
remembered hearing Harriets cries.
The Graveses reportedly buried her near the side of
the cabin, but in 1871 McCutchen wrote, "My child was dead before the Glover party
reached the emigrant camp, and when we succeeded in
getting in, Mr. Reed and myself buried the remains."