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The Diary of Patrick Breen

Irish immigrant Patrick Breen kept the following diary of the Donner Party's captivity in the Sierra Nevada during the winter of 1846-1847, the only surviving day-by-day record of events at the camps. A much-edited version of it appeared in the California Star, a San Francisco weekly, on May 22, 1847, which was copied from newspaper to newspaper across the country as word of the disaster spread. It was not until 1910, however, that an accurate transcription became available, and several writers have transcribed it since then. The original document is held by the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. Digital images of the entire diary can be viewed on their website.



Friday Nov. 20th 1846   came to this place on the 31st of last month that it snowed   we went on to the pass the snow so deep we were unable to find the road, when within 3 miles of the summit then turned back to this shanty on the Lake, Stanton came one day after we arrived here we again took our teams & waggons & made another unsuccessful attempt to cross in company with Stanton we returned to the shanty it continueing to snow all the time we were here   we now have killed most part of our cattle having to stay here untill next spring & live on poor beef without bread or salt   it snowed during the space of eight days with little intermission, after our arrival here, the remainder of time up to this day was clear & pleasant frezeing at night the snow nearly gone from the valleys.


sat. 21st   fine morning   wind N:W   22 of our company are about starting across the mountain this moring including Stanton & his indians, some clouds flying   thawed to day   wind E


Sunday 22nd   froze hard last night   this a fine clear morning, wind E.S.E.   no account from those on the mountains


monday 23rd   Same weather   wind W   the Expedition across the mountains returned after an unsucesful attempt


tuesday 24th   fine in the morning   towards eveng Cloudy & windy   wind W   looks like snow freezeing hard


wendsday 25th   wind about WNW   Cloudy   looks like the eve of a snow storm   our mountainers intend trying to cross the Mountain tomorrow if fair   froze hard last night


Thurssday the 26th   began to snow yesterday in the evening now rains or sleet   the mountaneers dont start to day   the wind about W.   wet & muddy


Friday 27   Continues to snow, the ground not covered, wind W   dull prospect for crossing the mountains


Saturday 28th   Snowing fast now about 10 Oclock   snow 8 or 10 inches deep   soft wet snow, weather not cold   wind W


Sunday 29th   still snowing now about 3 feet deep,   wind W   killed my last oxen today   will skin them tomorrow   gave another yoke to Fosters hard to get wood


Monday 30th   Snowing fast   wind W   about 4 or 5 feet deep, no drifts   looks as likely to continue as when it commenced   no liveing thing without wings can get about


December 1st Tuesday   Still snowing   wind W   snow about 5-1/2 feet or 6 deep   difficult to get wood   no going from the house   completely housed up   looks as likely for snow as when it commenced, our cattle all killed But three or four them, the horses & Stantons mules gone & cattle suppose lost in the Snow   no hopes of finding them alive


wedns. 2nd.   Continues to snow    wind W   sun shineing hazily thro the clouds   dont snow quite as fast as it has done   snow must be over six feet deep   bad fire this morning


Thursd. 3rd   Snowed a little last night bright and cloudy at intervals all night, to day cloudy   snow none   wind S.W.   warm but not enough so to thaw   snow lying deep allround   Expecing it to thaw a little to day   the forgoing written in the morning it immediately turned in to snow & continued to snow all day & likely to do so all night


Friday 4th   Cloudy that is flying clouds neither snow or rain this day   it is a relief to have one fine day.  wind E by N   no sign of thaw   freezeing pretty hard   snow deep


Saturday 5th   fine clear day   beautiful sunshine   thawing a little   looks delightful after the long snow storm


Sund. 6th   The morning fine & Clear now some Cloudy   wind S-E   not much in the sunshine, Stanton & Graves manufactureing snow shoes for another mountain scrabble   no account of mules


Mond. 7th   beautiful clear day   wind E by S   looks as if we might some fair weather   no thaw


Tues 8th   fine weather   Clear & pleasant   froze hard last night   wind S.E   deep snow   the people not stiring round much    hard work to wood sufficient to keep us warm & cook our beef


Wedns. 9th   Commenced snowing about 11 Oclock   wind N:W snows fast    took in Spitzer yesterday so weak that he cannot rise without help caused by starveation    all in good health some having scant supply of beef    Stanton trying to make a raise of some for his Indians & self not likely to get much


Thursd. l0th   Snowed fast all night with heavy squalls of wind    Continues still to snow the sun peeping through the clouds once in about three hours   very difficult to get wood to day    now about 2 Oclock looks likely to continue snowing don't know the debth of the snow may be 7 feet


Friday 11th   snowing a little   wind W   sun vissible at times   not freezeing


Satd. 12th   Continues to snow   wind W   weather mild   freezeing little


Sunday 13th   Snows faster than any previous day   wind N:W   Stanton & Graves with several others makeing preperations to cross the Mountains on snow shoes, snow 8 feet deep on the level   dull


monday 14   fine morning sunshine   cleared off last night about 12 Oclock   wind E:S:E   dont thaw much but fair for a continueance of fair weather


Tuesday 15th   Still continues fine   wind W: S: W


Wed'd 16th   fair & pleasant froeze hard last night & the Company started on snow shoes to cross the mountains   wind S.E   looks pleasant


Thursd. 17th   Pleasant sunshine today   wind about S.E   bill Murp returned from the mountain party last evening   Bealis died night before last   Milt. & Noah went to Donnos  8 days since not returned yet, thinks they got lost in the snow. J Denton here to day


Frid'd. 18   beautiful day   sky clear   it would be delightful were it not for the snow lying so deep   thaws but little on the south side of shanty   saw no strangers today from any of the shantys


Satd. 19   Snowed last night   commenced about 11 Oclock.   squalls of wind with snow at intervals this morning thawing   wind. N by W   a little Singular for a thaw   may continue, it continues to Snow   Sun Shining   cleared off towards evening


Sund. 20   night clear froze a little   now clear & pleasant   wind N W thawing a little  Mrs Reid here.  no account of Milt. yet   Dutch Charley started for Donnghs turned back not able to proceed   tough times, but not discouraged   our hopes are in God. Amen


Mond. 21   Milt. got back last night from Donos camp   sad news.   Jake Donno  Sam Shoemaker  Rinehart, &  Smith are dead the rest of them in a low situation   snowed all night with a strong S-W wind to day   Cloudy   wind continues but not snowing, thawing sun shineing dimly   in hopes it will clear off


Tuesd. 22nd   Snowed all last night   Continued to snow all day with some few intermissions   had a severe fit of the gravel yesterday   I am well to day, Praise be to the God of Heaven


Wend. 23rd   Snowed a little last night clear to day & thawing a little.  Milt took some of his meat to day   all well at their camp   began this day to read the Thirty days prayer, may Almighty God grant the request of an unworthy sinner that I am. Amen


Thursd. 24th   rained all night & still continues to rain   poor prospect for any kind of Comfort Spiritual or temporal,   wind S:   may God help us to spend the Christmass as we ought considering circumstances


Friday 25th   began to snow yesterday about 12 Oclock   snowed all night & snows yet rapidly   wind about E by N   Great difficulty in getting wood   John & Edwd. has to get I am not able   offered our prayers to God this Cherimass morning   the prospect is apalling but hope in God Amen


Satd. 26th   Cleared off in the night   to day clear & pleasant   Snowed about 20 inches or two feet deep yesterday.  the old snow was nearly run soft before it began to snow   now it is all soft the top dry & the under wet   wind S.E


Sun 27   Continues clear   froze hard last night   Snow very deep say 9 feet   thawing a little in the sun   scarce of wood to day   chopt a tree dow   it sinks in the snow & is hard to be got


Monday 28th   Snowed last night   Cleared off this morning   snowed a little   now Clear & pleasant


Tuesday 29th   fine clear day   froze hard last night.  Charley sick.  Keysburg has Wolfings Rifle gun


Wedsd.  30th fine clear morning   froze hard last night   Charley died last night about 10 Oclock had with him in money $1.50 two good 1oking silver watches one razor 3 boxes caps   Keysburg tok them into his possession   Spitzer took his coat & waistcoat Keysburg all his other little effects gold pin one shirt and tools for shaveing.


Thursday 31st last of the year, may we with Gods help spend the comeing year better than the past which we purpose to do if Almighty God will deliver us from our present dredful situation which is our prayer if the will of God sees it fiting for us Amen-- morning fair   now Cloudy   wind E by S   for three days past freezeing hard every night   looks like another snow storm   Snow Storms are dredful to us   snow very deep crust on the snow


Jany. 1st 1847   we pray the God of mercy to deliver us from our present Calamity if it be his Holy will Amen. Commenced snowing last night   does not snow fast   wind S.E.   sun peeps out at times   provisions geting scant   dug up a hide from under the snow yesterday for Milt. did not take it yet


Sat. 2nd   fair & thawey   snow got soft   wind S-E looks thawey   froze pretty hard last night


Sund. 3rd   continues fair in day time freezeing at night   wind about E   Mrs. Reid talks of crossing the mountains with her children   provisions scarce


Mond. 4th   fine morning looks like spring   thawing now about 12 Oclock   wind S:E   Mrs. Reid Milt. Virginia & Eliza started about 1/2 hour ago with prospect of crossing the mountain   may God of Mercy help them   left ther children here Tom with us Pat with Keysburg & Jas  with Graveses folks, it was difficult for Mrs. Reid to get away from the children


Tuesd. 5th   Beautiful day thawing some in the sun   Wind S-E   snow not settleing much   we are in hopes of the rainy time ending


Weds. 6th   fine day  clear   not a cloud   froze very hard last night   wind S:E   Eliza came back from the mountain yesterday evening not able to proceed, to day went to Graves, the others kept ahead


Thursd. 7th   continues fine   freezeing hard at night   very cold this morning   wind S.S.E.  dont think we will have much more snow   snow not thawing much   not much dimeinished in debph


Friday 8th   fine morning   wind E   froze hard last night   very cold this morning   Mrs. Reid & company came back this moring could not find their way on the other side of the Mountain   they have nothing but hides to live on   Martha is to stay here Milt. & Eliza going to Donos   Mrs. Reid & the 2 boys going to their own shanty & Virginia   prospects Dull   may God relieve us all from this difficulty if it is his Holy will Amen


Satd 9th   Continues fine   freezeing hard at night   this a beatiful morning   wind about S.S.E   Mrs. Reid here   virginias toes frozen a little   snow settleing none to be perceived.


Sund. 10   began to snow last night still continues   wind WNW.


Mond. 11th   still continues to snow fast, looks gloomy   Mrs Reid at Keysburgs virg. with us wood scarce difficult to get any more   wind W


Tuesd 12th   snows fast yet   new snow about 3 feet deep   wind S:W   no sign of clearing off


Wends. 13th   snowing fast   wind N.W   snow higher than the shanty must be 13 feet deep   dont know how to get wood this morning   it is dredful to look at


Thursd. 14th   new moon   Cleared off yesterday evening   snowed a little during first part of night Calm but a little air from the North   very pleasant to day sun shineing brilliantly renovates our spirits prais be to God, Amen


Frid. 15th   fine clear day   wind N W   Mrs. Murphy blind   Lanthron not able to get wood   has but one axe betwixt him & Keysburg, he moved to Murphys yesterday   looks like another storm   expecting some account from Suiters soon


Satd. 16th   wind blew hard all night from the W. abated a little   did not freeze much   this is clear & pleasant   wind a little S of W   no telling what the weather will do


Sund. 17th   fine morning sun shineing clear   wind S.S.E   Eliza came here this morning, sent her back again to Graves   Lanthrom crazy last night so bill says, Keyburg sent bill to get hides off his shanty & carry thim home this morning, provisions scarce   hides are the only article we depend on, we have a little meat yet, may God send us help


Mond. 18th   fine day clear & pleasant   wind W, thawing in the sun   Mrs. Murphy here to day   very hard to get wood


Tuesd. 19th   Clear & pleasant thawing a little in the sun   wind S.W   Peggy & Edward sick last night by eating some meat that Dolan threw his tobacco on, pretty well to day (praise God for his blessings,)   Lanthrom very low in danger if relief dont soon come   hides are all the go, not much of any other in camp


Wed. 20th   fine morning   wind N   froze hard last night.  Expecting some person across the Mountain this week


Thursd. 21   fine morning   wind W   did not freze quite so hard last night as it has done,   John Battice & Denton came this morning with Eliza   she wont eat hides   Mrs Reid sent her back to live or die on them.  Milt. got his toes froze   the donoghs are all well


Frid. 22nd   began to snow a little after sunrise   likely to snow a good dale [deal]   wind W   came up very suddenly, now 10 Oclock


Satd. 23rd   Blew hard & snowed all night the most severe storm we experienced this winter wind W   sun now 12 oclock peeps out


Sund. 24th   Some cloudy this morning   ceased snowing yesterday about 2 Oclock. Wind about S.E   all in good health thanks be to God for his mercies endureth for ever. heard nothing from Murphys camp since the storm   expet to hear they suffered some


Mod 25th   began to snow yesterday evening & still continues   wind W


Tuesd 26   Cleared up yesterday   to day fine & pleasant, wind S.   in hopes we are done with snow storms. those that went to Suitors not yet returned   provisions geting very scant   people geting weak liveing on short allowance of hides


Weds 27th   began to snow yesterday & still continues to sleet thawing a little wind W   Mrs Keyber here this morning   Lewis Suitor she says died three days ago   Keysburg sick & Lanthrom lying in bed the whole of his time   dont have fire enough to Cook their hides.  Bill & Sim. Murphy sick


Thursd. 28th   full moon   cleared off last night & froze some   to day fine & warm   wind S.E  looks some like spring weather   birds chirping qute lively   full moon today


Frid 29th   fine morning   began to thaw in the sun early.   wind S.W   froze hard last night   there will be a crust soon God send Amen


Satd. 30th   fine pleasant morning   wind W   beginning to thaw in the sun   John & Edwd. went to Graves this morning   the Graves seized on Mrs Reids goods untill they would be paid   also took the hides that she & family had to live on. she got two peices of hides from there & the ballance they have taken   you may know from these proceedings what our fare is in camp   there is nothing to be got by hunting yet perhaps there soon will. God send it Amen


Sund. 31st   The sun dont shine out brilliant this morning   froze prtty hard last night   wind N.W. Lantron Murphy died last night about 1 Oclock,   Mrs. Reid & John went to Graves this morning to look after her goods


Mond. the 1st   froze very hard last night   cold to day & Cloudy   wind N W.   sun shines dimly   the snow has not settled much   John is unwell to day   with the help of God & he will be well by night amen


Tuesday 2nd   began to snow this morning & Continued to snow untill night   now clear   wind during the storm S-W


Wend. 3rd  Cloudy   looks like more snow not cold, froze a little last night   wind S.S.W.   it was clear all last night   sun shines out at times


Thurd. 4th   Snowed hard all night & still continues with a strong S:W. wind untill now abated looks as if it would snow all day   snowed about 2 feet deep, now


Frid. 5th   snowed hard all untill 12 o'clock at night   wind still continud to blow hard from the S.W:   to day pretty clear a few clouds only   Peggy very uneasy for fear we shall all perrish with hunger   we have but a little meat left & only part of 3 hides   has to support Mrs. Reid   she has nothing left but one hide & it is on Graves shanty   Milt is livig there & likely will keep that hide Eddys child died last night


Satd 6th   it snowed faster last night & to day than it has done this winter & still Continues without an intermission   wind S.W   Murphys folks or Keysburgs say they cant eat hides   I wish we had enough of them   Mrs Eddy very weak


Sund. 7th Ceased to snow last after one of the most Severe Storms we experienced this winter the snow fell about 4 feet deep   I had to shovel the snow off our shanty this morning   it thawed so fast & thawed during the whole storm.   to day it is quite pleasant   wind S.W.  Milt here to day says Mrs. Reid has to get a hide from Mrs. Murphy & McCutchins child died 2nd of this month


Mond 8th fine clear morning   wind S.W.   froze hard last   Spitzer died last night about 3 o clock to we will bury him in the snow   Mrs Eddy died on the night of the 7th


Tuesd. 9th. Mrs Murphy here this morning   pikes child all but dead   Milt at Murphys not able to get out of bed   Keyburg never gets up says he is not able.  John went down to day to bury Mrs Eddy & child   heard nothing from Graves for 2 or 3 days   Mrs Murphy just now going to Graves   fine moring   wind S.E.   froze hard last night   begins to thaw in the Sun.


Wedndd. 10th beautiful morning   Wind W:   froze hard last night.   to day thawing in the Sun Milt Elliot died las night at Murphys Shanty about 9 oclock P: M:   Mrs. Reid went there this morning to see after his effects.  J Denton trying to borrow meat for Graves   had none to give   they have nothing but hides   all are entirely out of meat but a little we have   our hides are nearly all eat up but with Gods help spring will soon smile upon us


Thursd 11th   fine morning   wind W.   froze hard last night   some clouds lying in the E: looks like thaw   John Denton here last night very delicate.   John & Mrs Reid went to Graves this morning


Frid. 12th   A warm thawey morning   wind S.E.   we hope with the assistance of Almighty God to be able to live to see the bare surface of the earth once more. O God of Mercy grant it if it be thy holy will Amen


Sat. 13th   fine morning   clouded up yesterday evening   snowed a little & continued cloudy all night.   cleared off about daylight.   wind about S:W   Mrs Reid has headacke the rest in health


Sund 14th  fine morning but cold before the sun got up.  now thawing in the sun   wind S E   Ellen Graves here this morning   John Denton not well   froze hard last night   John & Edwd. burried Milt. this morning in the snow


Mond.15  moring Cloudy untill 9 oclock then Cleared off   warm & sunshine   wind W.   Mrs Graves refused to give Mrs Reid any hides put Suitors pack hides on her shanty would not let her have them   says if I say it will thaw it then will not, she is a case


Tuesd.16th   Commenced to rain yesterday Evening turned to Snow during the night & continud untill after daylight this morning   it is now sunshine & light showers of hail at times   wind N.W by W.   we all feel very weakly to day   snow not geting much less in quantity


Wedsd 17th   froze hard last night with heavy clouds runing from the N.W. & light showers of hail at times   to day same kind of Weather   wind N.W.   very cold & Cloudy   no sign of much thaw


Thrsd 18th   Froze hard last night   to day clear & warm in the sun cold in the shanty or in the shade   wind S.E   all in good health Thanks be to Almighty God Amen


Frid. 19th   froze hard last night   7 men arrived from Colifornia yesterday evening with som provisions but left the greater part on the way   to day clear & warm for this region   some of the men are gone to day to Donnos Camp will start back on Monday


Saturd. 20th   pleasant weather


Sund 21st   thawey warm day


Mond 22nd   the Californians started this morning 24 in number some in a very weak state   fine morning   wind S.W. for the 3 last days   Mrs Keyburg started & left Keysburg here unable to go   I burried pikes child this moring in the snow it died 2 days ago,   Paddy Reid & Thos. came back with Messrs Grover & Mutry


Tuesd. 23   froze hard last night to day fine & thawey   has the appearance of spring all but the deep snow   wind S: S.E.   shot Towser to day & dressed his flesh   Mrs Graves came here this morning to borrow meat dog or ox   they think I have meat to spare but I know to the Contrary   they have plenty hides I live principally on the same


Wend. 24th   froze hard last night   to day Cloudy   looks like a storm   wind blows hard from the W.  Commenced thawing   there has not any more returned from those who started to cross the Mts.


Thursd. 25th   froze hard last night fine & sunshiny to day   wind W.   Mrs Murphy says the wolves are about to dig up the dead bodies at her shanty, the nights are too cold to watch them, we hear them howl


Frid 26th   froze hard last night   today clear & warm   Wind S: E: blowing briskly   Marthas jaw swelled with the toothache:   hungry times in camp, plenty hides but the folks will not eat them   we eat them with a tolerable good aperite. Thanks be to Almighty God. Amen   Mrs Murphy said here yesterday that [she] thought she would Commence on Milt. & eat him.   I dont [think] that she has done so yet, it is distressing   The Donnos told the California folks that they commence to eat the dead people 4 days ago, if they did not succeed that day or next in finding their cattle then under ten or twelve feet of snow & did not know the spot or near it,   I suppose they have done so ere this time


Satd 27th   beautiful morning   sun shineing brilliantly, wind about S.W.   the snow has fell in debth about 5 feet but no thaw but the sun in day time it freezeing hard every night   heard some geese fly over last night saw none


Sund. 28th froze hard last night to day fair & sunshine wind S.E. 1 solitary Indian passed by yesterday come from the lake had a heavy pack on his back gave me 5 or 6 roots resembleing Onions in shape taste some like a sweet potatoe, all full of little tough fibres


Mond. March the 1st   So fine & pleasant   froze hard last night   there has 10 men arrived this morning from bear valley with provisions   we are to start in two or three days & Cash our goods here   there is amongst them some old   they say the snow will be here untill June

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