No. 1

Donner Party Bulletin


Issue No. 1

Tamsen's Other Children

The disaster in the Sierra Nevada was not Tamsen Donner’s first brush with tragedy. Historian C. F. McGlashan described the sorrowful end of her first marriage:

"In Elizabeth City she met Mr. [Tully B.] Dozier, a young man of education and good family, and they were married. He was not a man of means, but her forethought enabled them to live comfortably. For a few brief years she enjoyed all the happiness which wedded bliss and maternal love could confer, then death came, and in a few short weeks her husband and two babes were snatched from her arms."

For a long time this is all that has been generally known about Tamsen’s first marriage. Novelist Jeannette Maino conjectured that Tamsen and Tully Dozier had two little girls, and that Dozier and his daughters had died in a cholera epidemic. A letter held by the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, clears up this minor mystery. On June 28, 1831, Tamsen began a letter to her sister Eliza Poor, relating various details about her life in Elizabeth City. She wrote about her little boy

My child has been very sick for a few days we feared we should lose him but at this time he is in fine health & sitting upon the table while I write. He at one time scolds me for the inkstand, at another knocks my knuckles with a spoon. He bears no resemblance to our family being a true copy of his father. If he lives I shall very much desire he should have a northern education.

For some reason, Tamsen never sent this letter. Seven months later, on January 26, 1832, she appended a note to it:

I have lost that little boy I loved so well. He died the 28 Sept. I have lost my husband who made so large a share of my happiness. He died on the 24 December. I prematurely had a daughter which died on the 18th of Nov... O my sister, weep with me if you have tears to spare.ˆ

Sept./Oct. 1997

Bizarre Story about the Donner Party

Among the documents held by the Bancroft Library is a transcription of the obituary of William Booth, published as "An Argonaut at Rest" in the Victorian Times (Victoria, B.C.) on February 20, 1897. According to the article, Booth and his family were among the overland emigrants of 1846 who traveled at times with the Donner Party.

When the Booths reached Donner Lake, the Donner Party was encamped, halted by a steep bluff. The Booths were short on provisions and anxious to proceed, so they manned their picks and shovels to construct a road.

Then the Donner Party and others did a strange thing. They had declined to lend a hand in the building of the road but, seeing it completed, they proposed to use it. They were infinitely the stronger party, and there was no law other than that of Might possible of enforcement under such conditions. So they confidently announced that they were going over the pass in advance of its builders—and the Booth company, already on short rations, would have to wait.
They had not counted, however, upon the mettle of the little band of English. Quickly they took possession of the road that their own industry had provided and, when the Donners came on they found the Booth family ready. If the Donners went over the road first, they said, it would be over their dead bodies.

The Booths prevailed, crossed the pass first, and later returned with supplies to rescue the Donner Party.

Needless to say, there is no corroboration for any of this.

Issue No.1

Daily Alta California, June 22, 1868, p. 1

The Donner Tragedy
The Old Times and the New—Interesting

Nearly all the readers of the Alta are familiar with the story of the terrible sufferings of the Donner family—the terrible death of the father, mother, and one or more of their children, and the disposition which hunger compelled the party to make of a portion of their remains. The terrible scene was enacted near the lovely lake, set like a glorious gem in the bosom of the mountains, which now bears the family name. The Central Pacific Railroad winds down the steep acclivity of the Sierra, almost encircling the lake before reaching the valley of the Truckee, and the trains pass within sight of the scene of the tragedy. The children who survived the horrors and sufferings of that party have since grown to maturity, but the events which then occurred must ever remain vividly pictured on their memory. Among them was a girl, then four years of age, who is now a happy wife and the mother of several children, and resides in a thriving interior town but a short distance from San Francisco. On Friday last the first train from the eastern side of the mountains passed up to the summit of the Sierra and descended into the valley of the Sacramento, following for a part of the way the route which the Donner family followed in coming to California, and among the passengers was the girl alluded to and her interesting family of children. As the train wound up the eastern slope, she occupied a seat by the window on the side next the lake, and as it passed by the spot where the old "Donner Cabin" stood we noticed her looking intently at it. What her thoughts and feelings must have been at such a time we can only imagine, and the reader can do that as well as ourselves; but there was something suggestive in the scene, and the coincidence and reminiscence were worthy of especial notice.

(The woman in question was Eliza Donner Houghton.)

About The Donner Party Bulletin

In the course of my Donner Party (DP) research I’ve come to know a lot of DP buffs with whom I’d like to stay in contact. The Bulletin is intended to keep people informed of ongoing research and connect individuals who share the same interests.

I see the Bulletin as an informal publication containing brief articles about the Donner Party, its history, members, and rescuers, news, trivia, book reviews, publication announcements, reprints of early articles, and things like that. It may eventually include a question-and-answer column and notices from readers seeking to contact other descendants or researchers.

Sept./Oct. 1997

This premier issue is an experiment; if there’s enough interest, I envision a bimonthly flier sent to people I know are interested in the Donner Party. It will probably run about four pages. Since this is a nonprofit, private venture, I’d like to keep costs down, so please let me know if you have an E-mail address. The Bulletin will also be published on my Donner Party homepage (see below). If you aren’t online, no problem; let me know and I’ll mail you the Bulletin.

Postage will be a major expense, since at this point I don’t intend to incorporate or do bulk mailings, so contributions of stamps would be much appreciated. Monetary donations would be welcome, too, of course. I sincerely hope I won’t have to charge for subscriptions, but if I do, my goal—optimist that I am—will be to break even. Please drop a postcard to

Kristin Johnson
P.O. Box 522279
Salt Lake City, UT 84152-2279

or you can E-mail me.

Let me know your name, address, e-mail address, and, if you like, your areas of interest or relationship to DP members. I pledge not to divulge personal information about anyone without their permission.

I don’t now exactly where this experiment will take me, but I hope you’ll come along for the ride, and enjoy it, too. Feedback is welcome!

New Donner Party Homepage

As many of you know, I’m a member of the Utah Crossroads Chapter of the Oregon-California Trails Association (OCTA), whose newsletter I edit. A recently joined member of the chapter, Steve Berlin, called me about a month ago to ask me about putting back issues of Crossroads on the website he’s been creating for the chapter. We discussed the matter, then I ventured to ask if he would possibly consider creating a homepage for me, an idea I’d been vaguely toying with for some time. "Sure!" he said, just like that. He got to work and in an astonishingly short time I had a functioning website. It still needs some work, but I’m very pleased with it (thanks, Steve!). Take a look at it at

and let me know what you think.



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