It was October 28, 1846, and the Donner Party was in trouble. Ahead of them towered the rugged Sierra Nevadas. White snow was falling all around, and from what they could see of the mountain pass ahead, much more blocked their path.
Already worn out from a long trail, the migrants decided to retreat. They backed out 12 miles to wait out the early storm at Truckee Lake. With supplies running low, and months on the trail beginning to show its toll, the group sat tight for a break in the storm. Had they known the fate that was to befall them, it’s likely the group would have exited the mountains altogether. As it was, they were running late and the permanent snows were setting in. However, running late was nothing new to the Donner Party.
The “Donner Party” is the name given to one of the most haunting groups of Oregon Trail migrants. This group of pioneers originally came from Springfield, Ill., and were led by Jacob and George Donner, who had set their eyes west on the rich lands of California. In a time before the Gold Rush, these folks were looking for the golden soil California had to offer. In only a few short years, it would become precious metal that drove a wave of migration.
Their First Big Mistake
By the time the group had plodded down to Independence, Mo., and bought the necessary equipment, it was already May 12. This was considered exceptionally late to begin the trek west. Most of the big trains had been gone for two or three weeks at that point. In fact, the Donner Party was the last big party to leave Independence in the spring of 1846.
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