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- History of the Donner Party - 30/40 -
noise arrested her attention. She went below with a heavier heart than ever before. She had not a word of hope to answer the languid, inquiring countenances that were turned to her face, and she was conscious that it told the story of her despair. Yet she strove with some half-insane words to suggest that somebody would surely come to them that day. Another would be too late, and the pity of men's hearts and the mercy of God would surely bring them. The pallor of death seemed already to be stealing over the sunken countenances that surrounded her, and, weak as she was, she could remain below but a few minutes together. She felt she could have died had she let go her resolution at any time within the last forty-eight hours. They repeated the Litany. The responses came so feebly that they were scarcely audible, and the protracted utterances seemed wearisome. At last it was over, and they rested in silence.
The sun mounted high and higher in the heavens, and when the day was three or four hours old she placed her trembling feet again upon the ladder to look out once more. The corpses of the dead lay always before her as she reached the top-the mother and her son, and the little boy, whose remains she could not even glance at since they had been mutilated. The blanket that covered them could not shut out the horror of the sight.
The rays of the sun fell on her with a friendly warmth, but she could not look into the light that flooded the white expanse. Her eyes lacked strength and steadiness, and she rested herself against a tree and endeavored to gather her wandering faculties in vain. The enfeebled will could no longer hold rule over them. She had broken perceptions, fragments of visions, contradictory and mixed-former mingled with latter times. Recollections of plenty and rural peace came up from her clear, tranquil childhood, which seemed to have been another state of existence; flashes of her latter life-its comfort and abundance-gleams of maternal pride in her children who had been growing up about her to ease and independence.
She lived through all the phases which her simple life had ever worn, in the few moments of repose after the dizzy effort of ascending; as the thin blood left her whirling brain and returned to its shrunken channels, she grew more clearly conscious of the terrible present, and remembered the weary quest upon which she came. It was not the memory of thought, it was that of love, the old tugging at the heart that had never relaxed long enough to say, "Now I am done; I can bear no more!" The miserable ones down there - for them her wavering life came back; at thought of them she turned her face listlessly the way it had so often gazed. But this time something caused it to flush as if the blood, thin and cold as it was, would burst its vessels! What was it? Nothing that she saw, for her eyes were quite dimmed by the sudden access of excitement! It was the sound of voices! By a superhuman effort she kept herself from falling! Was it reality or delusion? She must at least live to know the truth. It came again and again. She grew calmer as she became more assured, and the first distinct words she heard uttered were, "There is Mrs. Breen alive yet, anyhow!" Three men were advancing toward her. She knew that now there would be no more starving. Death was repelled for this time from the precious little flock he had so long threatened, and she might offer up thanksgiving unchecked by the dreads and fears that had so long frozen her.
The Rescue California Aroused A Yerba Buena Newspaper Tidings of Woe A Cry of Distress Noble Generosity Subscriptions for the Donner Party The First and Second Reliefs Organization of the Third The Dilemma Voting to Abandon a Family The Fatal Ayes John Stark's Bravery Carrying the Starved Children A Plea for the Relief Party.
Foster and Eddy, it will be remembered, were of the fifteen who composed the "Forlorn Hope." Foster was a man of strong, generous impulses, and great determination. His boy was at Donner Lake, and his wife's mother and brother. He hardly took time to rest and recruit his wasted strength before he began organizing a party to go to their rescue. His efforts were ably seconded by W. H. Eddy, whose wife and daughter had perished, but whose boy was still alive at the cabins.
California was thoroughly aroused over tidings which had come from the mountains. It was difficult to get volunteers to undertake the journey over the Sierra, but horses, mules, provisions, and good wages were allowed all who would venture the perilous trip. The trouble with Mexico had caused many of the able-bodied citizens of California to enlist in the service. Hence it was that it was so difficult to organize relief parties.
The following extracts are made from the California Star, a newspaper published at "Yerba Buena," as San Francisco was then called. They do justice to the sentiment of the people of California, and indicate something of the willingness of the pioneers to aid the Donner Party. From the Star of January 16, 1847, is taken the following article, which appeared as an editorial:
"Emigrants on the Mountains."
It is probably not generally known to the people that there is now in the California mountains, in a most distressing situation, a party of emigrants from the United States, who were prevented from crossing the mountains by an early, heavy fall of snow. The party consists of about sixty persons - men, women, and children. They were almost entirely out of provisions when they reached the foot of the mountains, and but for the timely succor afforded them by Capt. J. A. Sutter, one of the most humane and liberal men in California, they must have all perished in a few days. Capt. Sutter, as soon as he ascertained their situation, sent five mules loaded with provisions to them. A second party was dispatched with provisions for them, but they found the mountains impassable in consequence of the snow. We hope that our citizens will do something for the relief of these unfortunate people."
From the same source, under date of February 6, 1847, is taken the following:
"It will be recollected that in a previous number of our paper, we called the attention of our citizens to the situation of a company of unfortunate emigrants now in the California mountains. For the purpose of making their situation more fully known to the people, and of adopting measures for their relief, a public meeting was called by the Honorable Washington A. Bartlett, alcalde of the town, on Wednesday evening last. The citizens generally attended, and in a very short time the sum of $800 was subscribed to purchase provisions, clothing, horses, and mules to bring the emigrants in. Committees were appointed to call on those who could not attend the meeting, and there is no doubt but that $500 or $600 more will be raised. This speaks well for Yerba Buena."
One other extract is quoted from the Star of February 13, 1847:
"A company of twenty men left here on Sunday last for the California mountains, with provisions, clothing, etc., for the suffering emigrants now there. The citizens of this place subscribed about $1,500 for their relief, which was expended for such articles as the emigrants would be most likely to need. Mr. Greenwood, an old mountaineer, went with the company as pilot. If it is possible to cross the mountains, they will get to the emigrants in time to save them."
These three articles may aid the reader in better understanding what has heretofore been said about the organization of the relief parties. It will be remembered that James F. Reed and William McCutchen first procured animals and provisions from Capt. Sutter, attempted to cross the mountains, found the snow impassable, cached their provisions, and returned to the valleys. Reed, as described in his letter to the Rural Press, went to San Jose, Cal., and thence to Yerba Buena. McCutchen went to Napa and Sonoma, and awakened such an interest that a subscription of over $500 was subscribed for the emigrants, besides a number of horses and mules. Lieut. W. L. Maury and M. G. Vallejo headed this subscription, and $500 was promised to Greenwood if he succeeded in raising a company, and in piloting them over the mountains. In order to get men, Greenwood and McCutchen went to Yerba Buena, arriving there almost at the same time with Reed. The above notices chronicle the events which succeeded the announcement of their mission. The funds and supplies contributed were placed in charge of Lieut. Woodworth. This party set out immediately, and their journey has been described. They form the second relief party, because immediately upon the arrival of the seven who survived of the "Forlorn Hope," Capt. Tucker's party had been organized at Johnson's and Sutter's, and had reached Dormer Lake first.
When Foster and Eddy attempted to form a relief party, they found the same difficulty in securing volunteers which others had encountered. It was such a terrible undertaking, that no man cared to risk his life in the expedition.
Captain J. B. Hull, of the United States navy, and Commander of the Northern District of California, furnished Foster and Eddy with horses and provisions. Setting out from Johnson's ranch, they arrived at Woodworth's camp in the afternoon. During that very night two of Reed's men came to the camp, and brought news that Reed and a portion of his party were a short distance back in the mountains. When Reed and his companions were brought into camp, and it was ascertained that fourteen people had been left in the snow, without food, the third relief party was at once organized. The great danger and suffering endured by those who had composed the first and second relief parties, prevented men from volunteering. On this account greater honor is due those who determined to peril their lives to save the emigrants. Hiram Miller, although weak and exhausted with the fatigues and starvation he had just undergone in the second relief party, joined Messrs. Foster and Eddy. These three, with Wm. Thompson, John Stark, Howard Oakley, and Charles Stone, set out from Woodworth's camp the next morning after Reed's arrival. It was agreed that Stark, Oakley, and Stone were to remain with the sufferers at Starved Camp, supply them with food, and conduct them to Woodworth's camp. Foster, Eddy, Thompson, and Miller were to press forward to the relief of those at Donner Lake. The three men, therefore, whose voices reached Mrs. Breen, were Stark, Oakley, and Stone.
When these members of the third relief party reached the deep, well-like cavity in which were the seven Breens, the three Graves children, and
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