The Donner (-Reed) Party


Episodes 3 & 4 are a dive into what the hell happened when a group of 80 people in a wagon train tried to take shortcuts, left late, and followed bad advice in 1846-1847. We also delve into the history of what exactly defines cannibalism and when it has occurred in more recent history. As always, we encourage additional reading and exploration if this is a topic that really interests you! Additionally, this content may be disturbing, so skip it and sit tight a couple weeks for when we move onto something less intense.

Additions to this story:


Donner-Reed Party Route

Donner-Reed route compared to other common trails. The party would take the Oregon trail to Ft. Bridger where the problems began to increase.

Winter Camps

The groups built small cabin structures to escape some of the elements. Donner Camp is where the Donner family spent their days. Graves-Reed is where Mrs. Reed and the children stayed waiting for relief.


Photograph taken 22 years later of where the group cut trees for shelter and firewood. The trees were cut to the level accessible due to snow, which reached about 20 feet deep.
Circa 1850, Mrs. Brunner (center) with Georgia & Eliza Donner

Eliza Donner was only 3 when her family began the trek to California, additional information on her experience can be read here. Christian and Mary Brunner (photo above) took in Eliza and Georgia.

James & Margaret Reed
Lansford Hastings
Lewis Keesburg

Illustrations from the 19th and 20th centuries

The story captured the minds and imaginations of 19th and 20th century Americans, largely due to the efforts of the survivors to share their stories.

On the Way to the Summit (The Donner Party). ca. 1891. William Gilbert Gaul, artist. Oil paint on canvas. Note the snowshoes.
Depiction of the camp created in 1846 – From The Expedition of the Donner Party by Eliza P. Donner Houghton, The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1920
Relief Party – From The Expedition of the Donner Party by Eliza P. Donner Houghton, The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1920

Sites to Visit

Map of Locations




Early article on the Donner plight (1847)

Donner Party Diaries

A Lighter Take: You’re Wrong About

Bill Schutt Ted Ed

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