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Saturday, March 19, 2011

California History - The Donner Party - Part 1

Recently, I turned on the TV and found that the PBS station was on.  It had a documentary on about the Donner Party.  I quickly changed the channel.  It is such a sad story of migration to California.  The next day someone mentioned the Donner Party.  It got me thinking.  I was so quick to change the channel yet their story does belong to someone's family tree and history.   Their history was not so quickly forgotten at the time, but is usually quickly remembered and then forgotten today.

I feel compelled to write about their story.  I hope to discover some information that I don't already know off the top of my head.   What I do know off the top of my head includes geography, family, the cold snow, and some rather gruesome details of their demise on the mountain.  It really is a compelling and sad part of California History, particularly Northern California.  There are lessons to be learned here even if just for knowing how to survive in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

Throughout my education, I have received varying degrees of information about California History.  I think of the quote "I hear and I forget", "I see and I remember", "I do and I understand".   This quote rings true of many things.   When it comes to California history, I heard plenty of teachers discuss it in class and saw the history in writing.   What helped me understand the history was actually going to places like Sutter's Fort in Sacramento and to the Donner Museum at Donner Lake. 

Viewing some of the Donner Family possessions including the items that belonged to the children was quite moving for me.  I'm sure that it has been over 20 years since I visited either of the places mentioned above but some things are burned in my memory.

Who were the Donner's?  Off the top of my head, they were a family migrating west from somewhere.  They arrived in Nevada and attempted to beat the winter snow over the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range by beginning their trek in October.   The winter weather at 6,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada's can be very unpredictable.  Even today, it is feast or famine sometimes with snow fall.  Early season blizzards are not unheard of and can make road travel over the summit rather difficult today.

The Donner's got mixed up in the early season blizzard and were stuck up on the mountain for quite a while.  The timeframe was long enough for several of them to starve to death.  Someone in the party wrote down what was happening to them as it happened.  This is one of the things that makes their story so compelling and rather haunting.

The northern summit above Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is named after the Donner Party.  It is, in fact, called Donner Summit.  There is also Donner Lake, Donner Pass, and the name is seen in that north area of Lake Tahoe in places like Truckee, California, as a reminder of a time and tragedy passed.

It amazes me sometimes how much information that I remember off the top of my head.  Next up are the other details that I found online........

1 comment:

  1. I did watch that show, although it was hard to get through. Being from Missouri I knew even less than you when I watched it so I learned a lot. I agree that it is definitely an important story to share.

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