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Donner Party Chronology

The following is a synopsis of the Donner Party story. Due to discrepancies among the sources and differences of interpretation, some dates may not agree with the reconstructions of other writers.
For a more detailed account, visit Dan Rosen's website.


April 14 (or 15) The families of James F. Reed and George and Jacob Donner, 33 people in nine wagons, leave Springfield, Illinois. (Click here for a discussion of the date.)
May 10 The Donners and Reeds reach Independence, Missouri; they spend two days making final arrangements and leave on the the 12th.
May 19 The Springfielders join a large wagon train captained by Col. William H. Russell, which is camped on Indian Creek about 100 miles west of Independence. Most of the members of the future Donner Party also travel with this group.
May 25 Graves family, from Marshall Co., Illinois, crosses the Missouri at St. Joseph.
May 25-29 Russell train is held up by high water at the Big Blue River near present-day Marysville, Kansas. Levinah Murphy and her extended family join the wagon train.
May 29 Sarah Keyes, Reed’s mother-in-law, dies and is buried at Alcove Spring.
May 31 The wagon train completes the crossing of the Big Blue.
June 9 Reach the Platte River, along which they travel for the next month.
June 18 William Russell resigns as captain of the wagon train, which is now led by William M. Boggs.
June 27 Boggs Company arrives at Fort Laramie and meet James Clyman, an acquaintance of Reed’s. They discuss a new route, Hastings Cutoff. Clyman has just come east with Hastings over this route and advises against taking it.
July 4 Boggs Company celebrates the Glorious Fourth at Beaver Creek; the Graveses are a week behind at Fort Laramie. William Russell, Edwin Bryant, and seven others, having traded their wagons for pack mules, leave the wagon train. Hiram Miller, a teamster for the Donners, goes with the Bryant-Russell Party, which becomes the first group of emigrants to take Hastings Cutoff.
July 11 Boggs Company reaches Independence Rock. Here they meet Wales B. Bonney with an open letter from Lansford W. Hastings announcing that he will meet emigrants at Fort Bridger and lead them on his cutoff, which passes south of the Great Salt Lake instead of detouring northwest around it via Fort Hall (modern Pocatello, Idaho).
July 19 The day after crossing South Pass, the Boggs Company and several others camp at the Little Sandy River in present-day Wyoming. A group of emigrants decides to take Hastings Cutoff. They elect George Donner their captain, thus creating the Donner Party. The other emigrants take the customary route by way of Fort Hall. The George Donners take in a stranger, Luke Halloran, who is ill and cannot continue on his own.
July 28 Donner Party reaches Fort Bridger, but Hastings has already left, leading 60-75 wagons (the so-called Harlan-Young Party) on his cutoff. Jim Bridger and his partner Louis Vasquez assure the Donner Party that Hastings Cutoff is a good route. The emigrants spend a few days at the fort resting their cattle, repairing wagons, etc.
July 31 Leave Fort Bridger. The McCutchen family and Jean Baptiste Trudeau join them. The group now numbers 74 people in twenty wagons.


After traveling through Echo Canyon, the Donner Party reaches the Weber River; they find a note from Hastings advising them not to follow him down Weber Canyon. The main body of the Donner Party camps near modern Henefer, Utah, while James Reed, Charles Stanton, and William Pike go ahead to get Hastings’ advice. They find him at the south shore of the Great Salt Lake. He accompanies Reed part way back to point out a route. Stanton and Pike remain with Hastings’ party until their exhausted horses are able to continue. Meanwhile, the Graves family has caught up with the Donner Party, which now numbers 87 people in 23 wagons. Reed blazes a trail back to the wagon train, arriving on August 10. The company votes to try his route rather than backtrack to Fort Bridger.
Aug. 11 Begin the arduous chore of clearing the new route through the Wasatch Mountains. Stanton and Pike get lost in the rugged canyons but eventually rejoin the wagon train.
Aug. 22 Donner Party climbs Donner Hill and enters the Salt Lake Valley.
Aug. 25 Luke Halloran dies and is buried in the Tooele Valley, near present-day Grantsville, Utah.
Aug. 28 The emigrants cut grass for the dry drive across the Great Salt Lake Desert.
Sept. 4-9 After a grueling crossing of the Salt Desert, the emigrants rest at the spring near the base of Pilot Peak, repair their wagons, and hunt for missing livestock. Having lost almost all his cattle, Reed abandons two of his wagons; George Donner and Louis Keseberg also abandon one each. The emigrants realize that food is getting low and send Charles Stanton and William McCutchen ahead to Sutter’s Fort to bring back supplies.
Sept. 10-25 The Donner Party follows Hastings’ tracks from Donner Spring into Nevada and around the Ruby Mountains.
Sept. 26 Reach the junction with the California Trail about 7 miles west of modern Elko, Nevada. Travel along Humboldt River for the next two weeks.
Oct. 5 Reed kills John Snyder, the Graves family's teamster, in a dispute at Iron Point and is banished from the train; he goes ahead to bring back supplies. Walter Herron accompanies him.
Oct.6-13 Travel along Humboldt. Paiute raiders wound or drive off many cattle. Unable to keep up, Mr. Hardcoop is left behind in the desert; no one will go back for him. Wolfinger stays behind to cache his wagon; when his companions, Joseph Reinhardt and Augustus Spitzer, rejoin the company they report that he has been killed by Indians.
Oct.15-30 Reach the Truckee River. After a rest at Truckee Meadows (present-day Reno), they begin ascent of Sierra. Charles Stanton returns from Sutter’s Fort with seven mules packed with supplies, assisted by Luis and Salvador, two of Sutter’s Indian vaqueros. Stanton's companion, William McCutchen, has fallen ill and remains at the fort. William Pike is accidentally shot and killed. Snow begins to fall. The Donners are held up in the Alder Creek Valley by a broken axle; George injures his hand while repairing it. The other emigrants go on ahead to the lake. On Oct. 28 Reed’s exhausting journey ends at Sutter’s Fort. There he meets McCutchen, now recovered, and the two men begin preparations to go back for their families.
Oct.30-Nov. 4 The larger group of emigrants reach Truckee (now Donner) Lake; the pass over the Sierra is just a few miles beyond. They attempt to cross, but snow thwarts their efforts and they retreat to the eastern end of the lake, where there is level ground, timber, and one existing cabin. They build two more. Fifty-nine people huddle in the three cabins near the lake, hoping that this early snow will melt and they’ll soon be able to cross the pass. The Donners and others, 22 people in all, are about six miles east on Alder Creek in three shelters hastily constructed from tents, quilts, buffalo robes, and brush.
Nov. 5- Dec. 5 More snow, more unsuccessful attempts to cross the mountains. The emigrants slaughter their remaining cattle, but many animals, including Sutter’s mules, have wandered off in the storms and their bodies are lost under the snow. William Eddy has but little success hunting. From the California side of the mountains, Reed and McCutchen attempt to reach their stranded companions but are forced back by the snow; they cache provisions in Bear Valley and return to Sutter’s. The Mexican War has drawn away virtually all the able-bodied men, so rescue will have to wait. Not knowing how many cattle the emigrants have lost, the men mistakenly believe that the Donner Party will have enough meat to last them several months. On November 20, Patrick Breen begins to keep a diary.
Dec. 6 Charles Stanton and Franklin Ward Graves making snowshoes for "another mountain scrabble."
Dec. 15 Baylis Williams dies.
Dec. 16 After the weather clears, the snowshoers, later dubbed the "Forlorn Hope," set out: Stanton, Luis, and Salvador; Franklin Ward Graves, his daughters Mary and Sarah, and Sarah’s husband Jay Fosdick; William and Sarah Foster, Sarah’s sister, Harriet Pike, and their two younger brothers, Lemuel and William Murphy; Amanda McCutchen; William Eddy; Patrick Dolan; Antonio the teamster; "Dutch Charley" Burger. William Murphy and Burger turn back the first day, but the 15 others continue. They are weak from hunger and have few provisions.
Dec. 21 Milt Elliott returns from the Donner camp at Alder Creek with news: Jacob Donner, Samuel Shoemaker, James Smith, and Joseph Reinhardt are dead. About this time Charles Stanton, snowblind and exhausted, is unable to keep up with the other snowshoers and tells them to go on. He never rejoins them.
Dec. 25-29 A blizzard catches the Forlorn Hope in the open. They have great difficulty getting and keeping a fire lit. Antonio, Patrick Dolan, Franklin Graves, and Lemuel Murphy die at the "Camp of Death." With nothing left to eat, the survivors tearfully resort to cannibalism.
Dec. 29 Back at the lake camp, "Dutch Charley" Burger dies.
Jan. 2 James F. Reed participates in the Battle of Santa Clara. Since the Mexican War is winding down in Northern California, freeing men and supplies, he again turns his energies to rescuing his family.
Jan. 4-8 Mrs. Reed, her daughter Virginia, Milt Elliott, and Eliza Williams set out to cross the mountains, leaving the smaller Reed children with others. First Eliza, then the others, give up and return to the cabins. The Reeds take refuge with the Breens, Eliza with the Graveses.
Jan. 17-19 Seven survivors of the Forlorn Hope -- William Eddy, William Foster, and the five women -- reach safety at Johnson's Ranch. Of the eight dead, seven have been cannibalized. Jay Fosdick died of starvation and exhaustion, but the two Indians, Luis and Salvador, were killed for food. Messages are dispatched from Johnson's to neighboring American settlements requesting assistance..
Jan. 24 Louis Keseberg, Jr., dies in the Keseberg's lean-to.
Jan.29 From his ranch near Sutter's Fort, Alcalde John Sinclair writes a letter to Alcalde Washington Bartlett of San Francisco describing the Donner Party's plight.
Jan. 31 Landrum Murphy dies. The First Relief, led by Aquilla Glover and Reason Tucker, leaves Sutter’s Fort.
Feb. 2 Harriet McCutchen dies.
Feb. 3 The citizens of San Francisco hold a meeting to raise funds for a rescue party.
Feb. 4 Margaret Eddy dies.
Feb. 5 First Relief leaves Johnson's Ranch.
Feb. 7 Eleanor Eddy dies. James Reed leaves San Francisco for Sonoma. He will spend the next two weeks rounding up men, horses, equipment, and supplies for the Second Relief. Selim E. Woodworth sails from San Francisco with a boatload of supplies, intending to rendezvous with Reed at the Feather River.
Feb. 8 Augustus Spitzer dies.
Feb. 9 Milt Elliott dies.
Feb.18 First Relief reaches the lake. Eleven emigrants have died, and the others are in bad shape physically and emotionally. Most have been without meat for some time, and they have been eating boiled rawhide, leather, bones, dogs, mice. Weak with hunger, they have great difficulty getting firewood and have been unable to hunt or fish.
Feb. 19 Some of the rescuers go to the Alder Creek camp. The Donners inform them that they will start eating the dead if they canít find the cattle lost under the snow in the next few days.
Feb. 20 Catherine Pike dies.
Feb. 21-26 Leading the Second Relief, James F Reed heads up into the mountains from Johnson's Ranch on the twenty-first, the same day the First Relief leaves the camps with 23 refugees: Edward and Simon Breen; John Denton; Elitha and Leanna Donner, their cousin George, and George’s half brother William Hook; Noah James; Philippine Keseberg and her daughter Ada; Mary and William Murphy; Naomi Pike; Eleanor, Lovina, and William C. Graves; Margret Reed and her children Virginia, Patty, James Jr., and Thomas; their servant Eliza Williams; Mrs. Wolfinger. Patty and Tommy Reed give out and are taken back to stay with the Breens. Ada Keseberg dies and is buried in the snow. John Denton gives out and is left behind to die.
Feb. 27-28 En route down the mountains the First Relief meets the Second Relief coming the opposite way. After an emotional reunion with part of his family, Reed hurries on to the cabins to get Patty and Tommy while the others continue down the mountains. Only a few days from safety, young William Hook dies after overeating.
Mar.1 Second Relief arrives at the lake camp. The rescuers find grisly evidence of cannibalism. James Eddy and George Foster, two little boys whose fathers survived the Forlorn Hope, are alive but very weak.
Mar. 2 At Alder Creek, Reed finds that the Donners have also resorted to cannibalism.
Mar. 3 Reed leaves the camps with 17 emigrants: Patrick and Margaret Breen and their children John, James F., Peter, Patrick Jr., and Isabella; Mary and Isaac Donner and their half brother Solomon Hook; Elizabeth Graves and her children Nancy, Jonathan, Franklin Ward, Jr., and Elizabeth; Patty and Tommy Reed.
Mar.5-7 A blizzard traps the Second Relief in Summit Valley; when it clears, Isaac Donner has died. Reed and his friend Hiram Miller can carry Patty and Tommy Reed. Solomon Hook can walk, but the rest of the refugees are too weak to travel and stay at "Starved Camp." The rescuers and their three charges continue, hoping to find food they cached on the way up.
Mar.12 On their way to the lake, the Third Relief, led by William Eddy and William Foster, reaches Starved Camp. Mrs. Graves and her son Franklin have died. They and Isaac Donner have been cannibalized. One of the rescuers, John Stark, stays to help the Breens and others out of the mountains while the others continue up to the camps.
Mar. 13 Eddy and Foster’s party arrive at the lake camp. They find their sons are dead.
Mar. 14 At the Alder Creek camp, George Donner is dying from infection in the hand he injured months before. His wife Tamzene, though in comparatively good health, refuses to leave him; she sends her three little girls on without her. The Third Relief departs with Frances, Georgia, and Eliza Donner and Simon Murphy. Elizabeth and Lewis Donner have died. Samuel Donner, Levinah Murphy, and Louis Keseberg are too weak to travel. Jean-Baptiste Trudeau and rescuer Nicholas Clark are left behind to care for the Donners, but abandon them to catch up with the Relief.
Late March Another rescue party sets out but is turned back by soft snow.
April 17 William Fallon and the Fourth Relief party reach the camps, finding only Louis Keseberg alive among the mutilated remains of his former companions.
April 29 The last member of the Donner Party, Louis Keseberg, arrives at Sutter's Fort.
June 22 Gen. Stephen W. Kearny, heading east, reaches the "Cannibal Camp." He and his companions are horrified at what they see. Mormon Battalion veterans who form part of Kearny’s entourage are detailed to gather the remains into the Breen cabin, which they then set afire.

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Revised: 31 Jan 2006

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