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The Donner Party

"1847: The Tragedy of the Donner party. Enroute to a new life in California, a group of 87 settlers led by brothers George and Jacob Donner became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada of northern California during the winter of 1846-47. A group of 15 settlers left to find help while the others set up camp near what is now Donner Lake. When the group's food ran out, the surviving settlers practiced cannibalism on the corpses of those who had died. Help arrived on February 15, with only 45 members of the party still alive."

The Donner party consisted of twenty wagons of Irish, English and German families. George Donner, a German emmigrant, first settled in North Carolina. At a age of sixty-two Donner, father of fifteen children from three wifes, left an Illinois farm to move to California. The party consisted of eighty-seven people, of whom thirty-nine were children. Seventeen of these where still under the age of 6. Their goal was to cross the Sierra Navada and to reach the promised land of California. The wagon train was already behind shedule when things started to go wrong. They did not cross the great salt desert until September Winter was all too close. By the time they reached a tarn (now Donner Lake), north of Lake Tahoe, the party was already wraked by dissension and ill feelings. By October, 1846, htey had to sleep under the first snow. By November the snow was eight feet deep and they could no longer move the wagons. When their plight became overwhelmingly obvious, a party was organized to seek help. Those who remained built log shelters, collected wood, and killed some of the oxen. A relieve party of fifteen was send to Sutter's Fort. Only seven of them made it in 33 days. Now the Sacramento Valley organized a rescue team while time started to run out for the remaining party waiting for help. When the food disappeared, they started to eat their horses, dogs, and boiled the ox-skins. Next the horrifying urge for survival hit, they began to eat each other. One surviver, Keseberg of Westphalen, was found partly crazed. He, was considered a learned man as he spoke four languages, was still living among scattered human bones. In a large pan besided him were human hearts and a liver freshly taken from a human body. A dead child, partially opened up, was hanging from the wall. The 45 suriving members of the Donner party had benn driven to cannibalism.

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