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

Jacob Donner lived in the shadow of his brother George and little emerges from the historical record about him. His family consisted of nine members, of whom only three children survived. There are relatively few references to this family in the known sources of the Donner story.

Jacob Donner

A farmer from Springfield, Illinois; brother of George Donner
Age: [56]

Parents: George Donner (b. abt 1752 Donegal Twp, Lancaster Co., PA, d. 27 Jun 1844, Sangamon Co., IL) and Mary (Huff?) (b. ?, d. abt 15 Mar 1842, Sangamon Co., IL)

b. abt 1790 Salem, Rowan Co., NC
m. abt 21 Nov 1835 in Sangamon Co., IL to Elizabeth Blue
     Ch: George, Mary Martha, Isaac, Samuel, Lewis
d. bef 20 Dec 1846 Alder Creek camp, Nevada Co., CA

     Jacob Donner’s age is given in the literature of the Donner Party as 65, based on Eliza Donner Houghton’s statement that he was the elder of the two Donner brothers. However, other records refer to George, not Jacob, as their father’s eldest son. Independent Donner family genealogies all estimate Jacob’s year of birth as 1790, which would make him only 56 in 1846. See George and Jacob Donner on the Brief Myths page.
     It is likely that Jacob Donner had been married before he married Elizabeth Blue Hook. The date given for his marriage to her, 21 Nov 1835, is when the license was obtained, not the date of the wedding.
     Jacob Donner seems to have left little impression on others. A cousin told Eliza that her Uncle Jake had been a sickly, complaining person but in her book Eliza described him more charitably:

[He] was a slight man, of delicate constitution, and was in poor health when we left Springfield, Illinois. The trials of the journey reduced his strength and exhausted his energy. When we reached the place of encampment in the mountains he was discouraged and gave up in despair. Not even the needs of his family could rouse him to action. He was utterly dejected and made no effort, but tranquilly awaited death.

McGlashan was told that "Jacob Donner was the first to die at Prosser Creek. He expired while sitting at the table in his tent, with his head bowed upon his hands, as if in deep meditation."

Elizabeth Blue

Wife of Jacob Donner
Age: [38?]

b. abt 1807?
m1. 10 Jun 1829 in Sangamon Co., IL, to James Hook
Solomon Elijah, William
m2. abt 21 Nov 1835 in Sangamon Co., IL to
Jacob Donner
     Ch: George, Mary Martha, Isaac, Samuel, Lewis
d. Mar 1847 Alder Creek camp, Nevada Co., CA

     Elizabeth Blue Hook was a sister of Mary Blue Tennant, George Donners second wife. Jacob Donners children were therefore double first cousins (cousins on both the mothers and the fathers side) of Georges daughters Elitha and Leanna.
     There were two families surnamed Blue living in Sangamon County, Illinois, in the 1830s, headed by brothers Solomon and Uriah Blue, who settled in the German Prairie area. Elizabeth and Mary Blue were very likely the daughters of Solomon and his wife Telitha Ann (or Elithacumy) Morris, but the relationship has not yet been definitely established.
     Elizabeth first married James Hook and had two sons, Solomon and William, but Hook abandoned the family and she divorced him.
Little is known of Elizabeth Donner. By the time C. F. McGlashan began working on his History of the Donner Party in 1879, all her children were dead, but she was remembered affectionately by Patty Reed Lewis, who asked McGlashan if anyone had been

kind, & thoughtfull, in giving you a word of praise, due the memory of Mrs. Jacob Donner, one of the most thoughtful, & generous, & hospitable, "Mothers" "of the Donner Party."

"Aunt Betsy" fixed a meal for the Reeds on the Salt Desert, and 30 years later Thomas Reed still remembered "Mrs. Donner’s nice gravey."

Solomon Elijah Hook

Son of James Hook and Elizabeth Blue; stepson of Jacob Donner
Age: 14

b. 11 Jan 1832 in Sangamon Co., IL
m. 7 Nov 1866 in Fairfield, Solano Co., CA to Alice M. Roberts (b. 14 April 1847, d. 24 June 1880, Yolo Co., Calif.)
     Ch: Edward, Francis, Susan; two others
d. 22 Sep 1878 at Winters, Yolo Co., CA

     Of the nine members of Jacob Donners family, only three children survived. Much of Jacobs property had been salvaged and sold at auction for the benefit of his children George and Mary, but their half-brother "Sol" Hook was only a stepson and not entitled to a share. It is unknown what provision, if any, was made for his future, but he was 15 years old he and probably considered old enough to start making a living. Sol stayed in the vicinity of Sutters Fort until July 1847, when Thomas O. Larkin brought him to Monterey. In 1850 Sol was working as a carpenter in Santa Cruz County; three years later he was farming and keeping a public house at Oregon Bar on the Mokelumne River in Calaveras County. Despite their separation Sol kept in contact with his surviving half-siblings and took an interest in their welfare.
     In 1866, at the age of 34, Sol married Alice Roberts. The 1870 federal census lists him as farming near Vacaville in Solano County, but by 1876 he had moved to Winters in Yolo County.
     On August 3, 1878, the Winters Advocate reported, "Sol. Hook has returned from the San Francisco Medical Institute, where he has been under treatment for "Tumor in the jaw." He returned very much improved in looks and health." The treatment did not cure his cancer, however, and six weeks later the newspaper reported his death at age 46 at the home of John Wolfskill. Sol, the last survivor of Jacob Donner's family, is buried in the Winters Cemetery.

William Hook

Son of James Hook and Elizabeth Blue; stepson of Jacob Donner
Age: [12]

b. abt 1834 in Sangamon Co., IL
d. Mar 1847 at Bear Valley, CA

     Young William Hook was taken out by the First Relief and reached camp in Bear Valley safely. Tormented by hunger, he sneaked out at night, gorged on the supplies, and became extremely ill. In the morning he was left behind with William G. Murphy, whose feet were badly frostbitten, and another person. Murphy later told C. F. McGlashan,

William Hook went out on the snow and rested on his knees and elbows. The camp-keeper called to him to come in. He then told me to make him come into camp. I went and put my hand on him, speaking his name, and he fell over, being already dead. He did not die in great agony, as is usually alleged. No groan, nor signs of dying, were manifested to us. The camp-keeper and myself took the biscuits and jerked beef from his pockets, and buried him just barely under the ground, near a tree which had been fired, and from around which the snow had melted.

George Donner

Son of Jacob Donner and Elizabeth Blue
Age: 9

b. 10 August 1836 in Sangamon Co., IL
m. 8 Jun 1862 in Sonoma Co., CA to Margaret Watson
     Ch: Albert, Mary E., Cora H. George W., John C., Betty L., Frank M.
d. 17 Feb 1874 near Sebastopol, Sonoma Co., CA

     Sharing the same name as his grandfather and uncle, this George Donner is often referred to as "George Donner, Jr." to distinguish him from his father's brother. Unfortunately, the use of "junior" creates even more confusion-- Captain George Donner was also a junior, having been named after his own father. Photographs captioned "Captain George Donner" are almost always of this nephew.
      After the disaster, George Donner was brought to San Francisco. Hotelier John Henry Brown gave him his board and "Lawyer [Lansford W.] Hastings (the Path Finder) gave him his clothes. The boy had many small presents given him in money, which he saved." James F. Reed was appointed George
s guardian.
     Money from their father
s estate was used to purchase lots in San Francisco for George and Mary Donner, but a complicated legal battle ensued that went on for years. George was able to sell his interest in the property at a profit. See McGlashan, History of the Donner Party, 253-257.
     "Young George" was the only Donner Party survivor to bear the Donner name very long; the other surviving Donners, his sister and cousins, were all girls who married and changed theirs. He rarely spoke of the disaster.
     George lived in Santa Clara County during much of his early adulthood and made his living as a farmer. In 1866 he bought some land in Solano County from his half-brother Solomon Hook, but later settled near Sebastopol in Sonoma County, where some of his descendants still live. George died there in 1874 at the age of 37. He was brought to San Jose and interred at Oak Hill Memorial Park next to his son Albert, who had died in San Jose in 1869. After 130 years of lying in an unmarked grave, George finally got a handsome new monument sponsored by the Native Sons of the Golden West and E Clampus Vitus, which was dedicated on August 15, 2004.

Mary Martha Donner

Daughter of Jacob Donner and Elizabeth Blue
Age: 7

b. 18 Mar 1839 in Sangamon Co., IL
m. 23 Aug 1859 in San Jose, Santa Clara Co., CA to Sherman Otis Houghton (b. 10 Apr 1828, New York City; d. 31 Aug 1914 in Long Beach, Los Angeles Co., CA)
     Ch: Mary Martha "Mollie"
d. 21 Jun 1860 in San Jose, Santa Clara Co., CA

     Marys feet were badly injured from frostbite and fire during her rescue. She lost four toes from her left foot; William G. Murphy remembered his sister Mary sitting at Johnsons Ranch holding Mary Donner on her lap while the dead digits were removed. She was taken to San Francisco to be treated by William Powell, a naval surgeon; she boarded with a member of the local Mormon community.
     Money from their father
s estate was used to purchase lots in San Francisco for George and Mary Donner, but a complicated legal battle ensued that went on for years. See McGlashan, History of the Donner Party, 253-257.
     Mary was raised by the Reed family in San Jose. She married an up-and-coming lawyer, Sherman Houghton, but less than a year later she was dead, apparently from complications of childbirth, when her daughter Mollie was only two weeks old. Houghton later married Mary
s first cousin, Eliza Donner, who raised the baby as her own. Mary was buried in the Reed family plot in Oak Hill Cemetery, San Jose, California.

Isaac Donner

Son of Jacob Donner and Elizabeth Blue
Age: [5]

     At Starved Camp Isaac Donner "perished during one of the stormy nights. He was lying on the bed of pine boughs between his sister Mary and Patty Reed, and died so quietly that neither of the sleeping girls awoke." (C. F. McGlashan.)

Samuel Donner

Son of Jacob Donner and Elizabeth Blue
Age: [4]

     There are at least two references from the spring of 1847 referring to a living Donner child left behind by the Third Relief; apparently this was Samuel. Eliza Donner Houghton claimed that her mother told her that Sammie had died when she came to the Murphy cabin to talk with the relief, but Eliza was three years old at the time and this story might not be accurate. Whatever the case, little Samuel joined his parents in death in March 1847.

Lewis Donner

Son of Jacob Donner and Elizabeth Blue
Age: [3]

     On March 3, 1847, the Second Relief set out from the camps, leaving rescuer Nicholas Clark behind at the Alder Creek to assist the Donners. He was staying in Jacob Donners tent a few days later when a terrible storm set. It lasted for what seemed a week.

Just as the storm was closing, Lewis Donner died, and the poor mother was well-nigh frantic with grief. As soon as she could make her way to the other tent, she carried her dead babe over and laid it in Mrs. George Donner’s lap. With Clark’s assistance, they finally laid the child away in a grave cut out of the solid snow.


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Revised: 31 Jan 2006

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