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

The McCutchens, from Jackson County, Missouri, joined the Donner Party at Fort Bridger. They had been traveling with another group, perhaps the party of Samuel C. Young, who had gone ahead on Hastings Cutoff. It is not recorded that they had a wagon; they may have been detained by an accident. When the Donners and Reeds left the fort, the McCutchens went with them.

William McCutchen

A farmer from Jackson Co., Missouri
Age: [30]

Parents: James McCutchen (b. abt 1771 in VA) and Elizabeth Deane (b. abt 1775 in VA)
b. abt 1816 in Davidson Co., TN
m.1 abt 1842 in Pettis Co., MO to Amanda Henderson
Ch: Harriet, James, John, Thomas, Edward
m.2 1860 Ruth A. Reeves (b. abt 1820 in New York)
d. 17 Apr 1895 Gilroy, Santa Clara Co., CA

     J. Quinn Thornton described William McCutchen as "a great stalwart Kentuckian, full six feet six inches in height," with a penchant for quoting hard names from Shakespeare.
     After crossing the Salt Desert, the Donner Party took stock of their supplies and realized that they did not have enough to see them through to California. Two volunteers set out, little Charles Stanton (5'5") and "Big Bill" McCutchen (6'6"). McCutchen became ill after arriving at Sutter’s Fort, and Stanton returned with supplies. McCutchen and James F. Reed made an abortive attempt to rescue their trapped families in November, but were forced to return because of the deep snow. The two fathers did succeed in February, leading the Second Relief to the camps.
     At first the McCutchens lived near Sonoma, but in 1848 they moved to Santa Clara County, living first at San Jose and later at Gilroy. William is mentioned frequently in the early history of the county. In September 1853 he was elected sheriff, beating out Mary and Eliza Donner’s future husband, S. O. Houghton. Houghton was later elected mayor and in that capacity once fined McCutchen for riding a race on the Sabbath in the streets of San Jose. See also William McCutchen and Joan Stucky’s McCutchen page.
     Amanda McCutchen died in childbirth in 1857; her widower remarried in 1860. In 1871, the Pacific Rural Press published an article about the Donner Party that represented Reed and McCutchen in an unfavorable light. The two men responded, Reed with a lengthy memoir and McCutchen with a shorter statement. (Both in Unfortunate Emigrants.)
     McCutchen died after a stroke in 1895. Like his old companions, James F. Reed and William Eddy, he rests in Oak Hill Cemetery in San Jose.

Amanda Henderson

Wife of William McCutchen
Age: [23]

b. abt 1822
m. abt 1842 in Pettis Co., MO to William McCutchen
Ch: Harriet, James, John, Thomas, Edward
d. 10 Nov 1857 in Santa Clara Co., CA

     Amanda was one of the hardy young women who survived the Forlorn Hope. On December 16, 1846, she left her daughter Harriet with the Graves family and set out for help.
     While living at Sonoma with the Brunners, Eliza Donner Houghton recalled wearing "a dark calico dress and sunbonnet, both made by poor Mrs. McCutchen of the Donner Party, who had to take in sewing for a livelihood."
     Amanda died giving birth to her son Edward. William, left with three other children to tend, could not cope with a newborn, so Edward spent the first several years of his life with the attending physician and his wife, taking their name, "Johnson," as his middle name in gratitude.

Harriet McCutchen

Daughter of William McCutchen and Amanda Henderson
Age: [1]

     Harriet’s exact age is not known, but she was probably between one and two years old. McGlashan lists her as one of the nursing infants of the Donner Party; Mary Graves wrote that her little sister Elizabeth and Harriet were about the same age.
     When Amanda went with the Forlorn Hope, she left Harriet with the Graveses. The child suffered terribly, tormented by lice, before she died on February 2. Patty Reed Lewis, who had lived in the adjoining Reed cabin, remembered hearing Harriet’s cries.
     The Graveses reportedly buried her near the side of the cabin, but in 1871 McCutchen wrote, "My child was dead before the Glover party reached the emigrant camp, and when we succeeded in getting in, Mr. Reed and myself buried the remains."

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Revised: 31 Jan 2006

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