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Donner Party

Learn about the Donner Party and find out if the group really practiced cannibalism.
by

Emily Haslam

on 4 June 2013

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Transcript of Donner Party

Cannibals or Starving Pioneers? The Donner Party Before leaving Illinois, a pioneer named James Reed found a new route along the Oregon Trail that promised to shave off 300 miles of the journey. This alternate route would involve taking a shortcut through the Sierra Mountains instead of talking the original path around them. As the Donner Party approached the Sierras in October, 1846, snow started to fall. Winter had come a month early and the pioneers were caught unprepared for nature's challenges. Unable to climb the summit, the train set up camp at what is now called Donner Lake. As the snow kept falling, food began to run out. Eating oxen and animal hides soon was not enough. The survivors mostly ate people who already had died. Researchers first knew that cannibalism was part of the Donner story because of reading Patrick Breen's Diary from February 26th, 1846. He wrote ".....Mrs.Murphy said here yesterday that [she] thought she would commence on Milt and eat him. I don't think she has done so yet, [but] it is distressing. The Donno[r]s told the California folks that they [would] commence to eat the dead people 4 days ago, if they did not succeed in finding their cattle then under ten or twelve feet of snow & did not know the spot or near it, I suppose they have [cannibalized] ...ere this time," (tripod.com). CANNIBALISM Not only did the pioneers eat those who we already dead, but in an interview with Ethan Rarick, author of "Desperate Passage: The Donner Party's Perilous Journey West," he explains how this might not be the case. According to Rarick, "Two Indians traveling with the group at that point saw the handwriting on the wall... [A member of the group] takes a gun and shoots them, they're cannibalized. That's the only time in the story when anyone is actually killed to be eaten. In all the other cases of cannibalism in the Donner party, people eat cannibalized bodies of those who already died," (usnews.com). Killed to Be Eaten? When people hear of the Donner party today, they have different perceptions of what types of people the west warders were. Some say to eat their own kind was criminal; others say to resort to cannibalism was a heroic act to survive against nature's odds. Nonetheless, the Donner party's story was a historic event full of sacrifice, hardship, courage, and bravery that might just be the most inspiring occurrence in the history book. Who Were the Donners? The New Route Along the Trail Along the trail, the Donner Party joined other west warders with the same objective of taking the shortcut. Their trek was uneventful until a stop at a Fort Bridger in today's Wyoming in July, 1846. All the people that stayed on the normal path had no trouble reaching their goal, however this was not true for the Donners. Many people began to starve
and die. With no other option, the party
resorted to... George Donner was selected to be the leader of the wagon train and the expedition was named after him. After being rescued none of the survivors
liked to admit that they ate human flesh,
but some did confess. In February, 1847, rescue parties were able to take forty-eight of the original eighty-seven people safely to California. By Emily Haslam Thanks for Watching! Even though some people may still disagree with the idea of cannibalism amongst the Donner party, the opposite is true. The pioneers did indeed eat human flesh to stay alive during that hard winter; an act of survival on their part. This quote explains to readers that not only were dead humans being consumed, but the actions were taken to the extent to where a member of the group intentionally killed someone to cannibalize them. These pioneers must have been pretty desperate for food if they were willing to take a life for the well-being of them and other people. Works Cited Burton, Gabrielle. "Donner Party: Did They or Didn't They?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 17 Apr. 2010. Web. 30 May 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gabrielle-burton/donner-party-did-they-or_b_541658.html>.

Ewers, Justin. "The Ghoulish Tale of the Donner Party." US News. U.S.News & World Report, 19 Feb. 2008. Web. 27 May 2013. <http://www.usnews.com/news/national/articles/2008/02/19/the-ghoulish-tale-of-the-donner-party?page=3>.

Lewis, Daniel. "Forensics of the Donner Party." Forensics of the Donner Party. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 May 2013. <http://raiboy.tripod.com/Donner/id14.html>.

"The Tragic Fate of the Donner Party, 1847." The Tragic Fate of the Donner Party, 1847. EyeWitness to History, 2009. Web. 27 May 2013. <http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/donnerparty.htm>. This quote from Patrick Breen's diary proves that they cannibalized the dead. To state that Mrs. Murphy was going to eat Milt is a confession of cannibalism as well as how the Donners told the California folks that they were going to eat the dead. Cannibalism at
Different Campsites? Many researchers claim that no human bone remains were found at Alder Creek, so therefore no cannibalism was practiced. Although these bone remains were not found, Gabrielle Burton, an author of two books on the Donner Party, assures that "certainly cannibalism occurred at one, two, or three of the campsites and in the open mountains on escape and rescue attempts. Credible rescuers wrote about and testified to seeing evidence at the camps; members of the party wrote and spoke about it at the time and later. We may never get archeological evidence but there's plenty of historical evidence," (huffingtonpost.com). Gabrielle Burton is telling readers that even though there was no physical evidence of cannibalism at Alder Creek, cannibalism occurred in other places near there. Also, historical evidence proves the cannibalism was not a myth. Quote Analysis Quote Analysis The Price
for the Shortcut Quote Analysis
Full transcript