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Fourth Relief Diary

In April 1847 William O. Fallon led the fourth and last relief party up to Donner Lake. When the Third Relief departed the camps a month previously, a handful emigrants had been left behind: Tamzene and  George Donner, Levinah Murphy, Louis Keseberg, and (possibly) Samuel Donner. The members of Fallon's party had little hope of finding any but Mrs. Donner and Keseberg alive, and their mission was more of a salvage operation than an attempt at rescue. They entered an agreement with John Sinclair that they would recover as much property and money as they could from the Alder Creek Camp, half of which would go to the estates of George and Jacob Donner, the other half going to the salvagers as payment for their services.

Members of this expedition in addition to Fallon were: Edward "Ned" Coffeemeyer; Joseph Sels (or Foster); William M. Foster; Sebastian Keyser; John Pierce Rhoads; and Reason P. Tucker.
Fallon's account of the operation was published the California Star on June 5, 1847:

Written by a Member of the Party
Latest from the California Mountains.

The extracts which we give below are full of thrilling interest. Mr. Fellun [Fallon], the writer, better known as "Capt. Fellun," set out from the settlements in April last with six others, to extend relief to the remaining sufferers of the emigration, still within the mountains, and also to collect and secure the scattered property of both living and dead. He succeeded in reaching the cabins, and with the exceptions of Kiesburg not a soul survived. They returned, bringing with the this man, and large packs of valuable property. Kiesburg was found in truly a lamentable situation; a long subsistence upon the bodies of his deceased comrades had rendered him haggard and ferocious-looking, and the unsatiable appetite of the cannibal displayed itself on frequent occasions, even after animal meat have been placed before him. This fondness for human flesh he had suffered himself to acquire in preference to the beef or horse meat of which he had an abundance. And it is to be feared that his conduct in the mountains was far from justifiable, and a hidden transaction of guilt remains yet to be brought to light.
     We commend the diary as being a plain though well written document, and we have published it in the writer’s own language, abating nothing from it in point of interest. Mr. Fellun certainly deserves credit for his management of the affair, as it will be seen that he effected the desirable end.

"Left Johnson’s on the evening of April 13th, and arrived at the lower end of the Bear River valley on the 15th. Hung our saddles upon the trees, and sent the horses back, to be returned again in ten days, to bring us in again. Started on foot, with provisions for ten days, and traveled to the head of the valley, and encamped for the night; snow from two to three feet deep. Started early in the morning of the 15th, and traveled twenty-three miles; snow ten feet deep.
"April 17.—Reached the cabins between 12 and 1 o’clock. Expected to find some of the sufferers alive, Mrs. Donner and Kiesburg in particular. Entered the cabins, and a horrible scene presented itself—human bodies terribly mutilated, legs, arms, and sculls, scattered in every direction. One body, supposed to be that of Mrs. Eddy [this identification was later retracted] lay near the entrance, the limbs severed off, and a frightful gash in the skull. The flesh was nearly consumed from the bones, and a painful stillness pervaded the place. The supposition was, that all were dead, when a sudden shout revived our hopes, and we flew in the direction of the sound. Three Indians, who had been hitherto concealed, started from the ground and fled at our approach, leaving their bows and arrows. We delayed two hours in searching the cabins, during which we were obliged to witness sights from which we would have fain turned away, and which are too dreadful to put on record. We next started for Donners’ camp, eight miles distant over the mountains. After traveling about half way, we came upon a track in the snow which excited our suspicion, and we determined to pursue it. It brought us to the camp of Jacob Donner, where it had evidently left that morning. There we found property of every description, books, calicoes, tea, coffee, shoes, percussion caps, household and kitchen furniture, scattered in every direction, and mostly in the water. At the mouth of the tent stood a large iron kettle, filled with human flesh, cut up. It was from the body of George Donner. The head had been split open, and the brains extracted therefrom, and, to the appearance, he had not been long dead—not over three or four days, at the most. Near by the kettle stood a chair, and thereupon three legs of a bullock that had been shot down in the early part of the winter, and snowed upon before it could be dressed. The meat was found sound and good, and, with the exception of a small piece out of the shoulder, wholly untouched. We gathered up some property, and camped for the night.
"April 18.—Commenced gathering the most valuable property, suitable for our packs, the greater portion requiring to be dried. We then make them up, and camped for the night.
"April 19.—This morning, [William] Foster, Rhodes, and J. Foster [Joseph Sel], started, with small packs, for the first cabins, intending from thence to follow the trail of the person that had left the morning previous. The other three remained behind to cache and secure the goods necessarily left there. Knowing the Donners had a considerable sum of money, we searched diligently, but were unsuccessful. The party from the cabins were unable to keep the trail of the mysterious personage, owing to the rapid melting of the snow; they, therefore, went direct to the cabins, and, upon entering, discovered Kiesburg lying down amidst the human bones, and beside him a large pan full of fresh liver and lights. They asked him what had become of his companions; whether they were alive; and what had become of Mrs. Donner. He answered them by stating that they were all dead. Mrs. Donner, he said, had, in attempting to cross from one cabin to another, missed the trail, and slept out one night; that she came to his camp the next night, very much fatigued; he made her a cup of coffee, placed her in bed, and rolled her well in the blankets; but the next morning found her dead. He ate her body, and found her flesh the best he had ever tasted. He further stated, that he obtained from her body at least four pounds of fat. No traces of her person could be found, nor the body of Mrs. Murphy either. When the last company left camp, three weeks previous, Mrs. Donner was in perfect health, though unwilling to come and leave her husband there, and offered $500 to any person or persons who would come out and bring them in—saying this in the presence of Kiesburg—and that she had plenty of tea and coffee. We suspected that it was she who had taken the piece from the shoulder of beef in the chair before mentioned. In the cabin with Kiesburg were found two kettles of human blood, in all supposed to be over one gallon. Rhodes asked him where he had got the blood. He answered, "There is blood in dead bodies." They asked him numerous questions, but he appeared embarrassed, and equivocated a great deal; and in reply to their asking him where Mrs. Donner’s money was, he evinced confusion, and answered, that he knew nothing about it—that she must have cached it before she died. ‘I hav’n’t it,’ said he, ‘nor the money, nor the property of any person, living or dead!’ They then examined his bundle, and found silks and jewelry, which had been taken from the camp of the Donners, amounting in value to about $200. On his person they discovered a brace of pistols, recognized to be those of George Donner, and, while taking them from him, discovered something concealed in his waistcoat, which on being opened was found to be $225, in gold.
     "Before leaving the settlements, the wife of Kiesburg had told us that we would find but little money about him; the men, therefore, said to him, that they knew he was lying to them, and that he was well aware of the place of concealment of the Donner’s money. He declared, before heaven, he knew nothing concerning it, and that he had not the property of any one in his possession. They told him, that to lie to them would effect nothing; that there were others back at the cabins, who, unless informed of the spot where the treasure was hidden, would not hesitate to hang him upon the first tree. Their threats were of no avail; he still affirmed his ignorance and innocence. Rhodes took him aside and talked to him kindly, telling him, that if he would give the information desired, he should receive from their hands the best of treatment, and be in every way assisted; otherwise, the party back at Donners’ camp would, upon its arrival, and his refusal to discover to them the place where he had deposited this money, immediately put him to death. It was all to no purpose, however, and they prepared to return to us, leaving him in charge of the packs, and assuring him of their determination to visit him in the morning; and that he must make up his mind during the night. They then started back and joined us at the Donners’ camp.
"April 20.—We all started for Bear River valley, with packs of one hundred pounds each; our provisions being nearly consumed, we were obliged to make haste away. Came within a few hundred yards of the cabin which Kiesburg occupied, and halted to prepare breakfast, after which we proceeded to the cabin. I now asked Kiesburg if he was willing to disclose to me where he had concealed that money. He turned somewhat pale, and again protested his ignorance. I said to him, ‘Kiesburg, you know well where Donner’s money is, and d—n you, you shall tell me! I am not going to multiply words with you, or say but little about it; bring me that rope!’ He then arose from his pot of soup and human flesh and begged me not to harm him; he had not the money nor the goods; the silk clothing and money which were found upon him the previous day, and which he then declared belonged to his wife, he now said were the property of others in California. I then told him I did not wish to hear more from him, unless he at once informed us where he had concealed the money of those orphan children; then producing the rope, I approached him. He became frightened; but I bent the rope about his neck, and threw him, after a struggle, upon the ground, and as I tightened the cord, and choked him, he cried out that he would confess all upon release. I then permitted him to arise. He still seemed inclined to be obstinate, and made much delay in talking; finally, but with evident reluctance, he led the way back to Donners’ camp, about ten miles distant, accompanied by Rhodes and Tucker. While they were absent, we moved all our packs over to the lower end of the lake, and made all ready for a start when they should return. Mr. Foster went down to the cabin of Mrs. Murphy, his mother-in-law, to see if any property remained there worth collecting and securing; he found the body of young [Landrum] Murphy, who had been dead about three months, with the breast and skull cut open, and the brains, liver, and lights taken out; and this accounted for the contents of the pan which stood beside Kiesburg, when he was found. It appears that he had left at the other camp the dead bullock and horse, and on visiting this camp and finding the body thawed out, took therefrom the brains, liver, and lights.
     "Tucker and Rhodes came back the next morning, bringing $273, that had been cached by Kiesburg, who after disclosing to them the spot, returned to the cabin. The money had been hidden directly underneath the projecting limb of a large tree, the end of which seemed to point precisely to the treasure buried in the earth. On their return, and passing the cabin, they saw the unfortunate man within, devouring the remaining brains and liver, left from his morning repast. They hurried him away, but before leaving, he gathered together the bones and heaped them all in a box he used for the purpose, blessed them and the cabin, and said, ‘I hope God will forgive me what I have done; I couldn’t help it! and I hope I may get to heaven yet!’ We asked Kiesburg why he did not use the meat of the bullock and horse instead of human flesh. He replied, he had not seen them. We then told him we knew better, and asked him why the meat in the chair had not been consumed. He said, ‘Oh, it’s too dry eating! the liver the lights were a great deal better, and the brains made good soup!’ We then moved on, and camped on the lake for the night.
"April 21.—Started for Bear River valley this morning; found the snow from six to eight feet deep; camped on Yuva river for the night. On the 22d, traveled down Yuva about eighteen miles, and camped at the head of Bear River valley. On the 25th, moved down to the lower end of the valley; met our horses, and came in."

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