Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Donner Party

Frazar Online Film Collection: The Donner Party



















Source YouTube

At the start of spring in the year 1846 an appealing advertisement appeared in the Springfield, Illinois, Gazette. ''Westward ho,'' it declared. ''Who wants to go to California without costing them anything? As many as eight young men of good character who can drive an ox team will be accommodated. Come, boys, you can have as much land as you want without costing you anything.'' The notice was signed G. Donner, George Donner, leader of what was to become the most famous of all the hundreds of wagon trains to start for the far west, the tragic, now nearly mythic Donner Party.
If ever there was a moment when America seemed in the grip of some great, out-of-the-ordinary pull, it was in 1846. The whole mood was for movement, expansion, and the whole direction was westward. It was in 1846 that the Mormons set out on their trek to the Great Salt Lake. It was in 1846 that the Mexican war began and effectively all of Texas, Mexico and California were added to the United States.
And it wasn't just young men who answered the call. Whole families and people of all stations in life joined the caravan, which is part of the fascination of this haunting story. One is struck, for example, by how many women there were in the Donner party and how many of them survived the horrific ordeal they met. Imagine packing up an entire household, saying good-bye to all you've known and setting off to walk essentially to walk to California, a continent away, little knowing what was in store.
Resources:

In the Library:
On the Web:
  • PBS American Experience: The Donner Party website
  • Donner Party Archaeology Project at the University of Montana website