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- History of the Donner Party - 6/40 -

old-fashioned single-barreled shotgun, the Chief sprang upon his horse and fairly flew over the plain toward the emigrant wagons. When within about a hundred yards of the train he attracted attention by giving an Indian whoop, which was so full of rage and imprecation that the startled warriors forthwith desisted from their petty persecutions and scattered in every direction like frightened quail. One of the would-be marauders was a little tardy in mounting his pony, and as soon as the Chief got within range, the shotgun was leveled and discharged full at the unruly subject. Three of the buckshot entered the pony's side and one grazed the warrior's leg. As if satisfied that his orders to treat the emigrants in a friendly manner would not be again disregarded, the Chief wheeled his horse about, and in the most grave and stately manner rode back to his encampment.

On another occasion, Mary Graves, who was a very beautiful young lady, was riding on horseback accompanied by her brother. They were a little in the rear of the train, and a band of Sioux Indians, becoming enamored with the maiden, offered to purchase her. They made very handsome offers, but the brother not being disposed to accept, one of the Indians seized the bridle of the girl's horse and attempted to carry her away captive. Perhaps the attempt was made in half jest. At all events the bridle was promptly dropped when the brother leveled his rifle at the savage.

On the twentieth of July, 1846, George Donner was elected Captain of the train at the Little Sandy River. From that time forward it was known as the Donner Party.

One incident, not at all unusual to a trip across the plains, is pointedly described in a letter written by C. T. Stanton to his brother, Sidney Stanton, now of Cazenovia, New York. The incident alluded to is the unfriendliness and want of harmony so liable to exist between different companies, and between members of the same company. From one of Mr. Stanton's letters the following extract is made:

"At noon we passed Boggs' company on the Sweetwater; a mile further up the river, Dunlavy's; a mile further, West's; and about two miles beyond that, was Dunbar's. We encamped about half way between the two latter. Thus, within five miles were encamped five companies. At Indian Creek, twenty miles from Independence, these five companies all constituted one, but owing to dissensions and quarreling they became broken into fragments. Now, by accident, we all again once more meet and grasp the cordial hand; old enmities are forgot, and nothing but good feeling prevails. * * * * * The next morning we got rather a late start, owing to a difference of opinion arising in our company as to whether we should lie by or go ahead. Those wishing to lie by were principally young men who wished to have a day's hunting among the buffaloes, and there were also a few families out of meat who wished to lay in a supply before they left the buffalo country. A further reason was urged that the cattle were nearly fagged out by hard travel, and that they would not stand the journey unless we stopped and gave them rest. On the other side it was contended that if we stopped here the other companies would all get ahead, the grass would all he eaten off by their thousand head of cattle, and that consequently, when we came along, our cattle would starve. The go-ahead party finally ruled and we rolled out."

As will presently be seen, the dissension existing in the company, and the petty differences of opinion and interest, were the fundamental causes of the calamities which befell the Donner Party.

When the company was near Fort Bridger, Edward Breen's leg was broken by a fall from a horse. His mother refused to permit amputation, or rather left the question to Edward's decision, and of course, boy-like, he refused to have the operation performed. Contrary to expectation, the bone knitted, and in a month he walked without a crutch.

At Fort Bridger, which was at this time a mere camp or trading post, the party heard much commendation bestowed upon a new route via Salt Lake. This route passed along the southern shore of the Lake, and rejoined the old Fort Hall emigrant road on the Humboldt. It was said to shorten the distance three hundred miles. The new route was known as the Hastings Cut-off, and was named after the famous Lansford W. Hastings, who was even then piloting a small company over the cut-off. The large trains delayed for three or four days at Fort Bridger, debating as to the best course to pursue. It is claimed that but for the earnest advice and solicitation of Bridger and Vasquez, who had charge of the fort, the entire party would have continued by the accustomed route. These men had a direct interest in the Hastings Cut-off, as they furnished the emigrants with supplies, and had employed Hastings to pilot the first company over the road to Salt Lake.

After mature deliberation, the party divided, the greater portion going by Fort Hall and reaching California in safety. With the large train, which journeyed the old road, this narrative is no longer interested. Eighty-seven persons, however, took the Hastings Cut-off. Their names are included in the ninety mentioned in the preceding chapter, it being remembered that Mrs. Sarah Keyes had died, and that Lewis and Salvador were not yet members of the party. For several days the party traveled without much difficulty. They reached Weber River near the head of the well-known Weber Canyon. At the first crossing of this river, on the third of August, they found a letter from Hastings stuck in the split of a stick, informing them that the road down the Weber Canyon was in a terrible condition, and that it was doubtful if the sixty-six wagons which L. W. Hastings was then piloting through the canyon would ever succeed in reaching the plain. In the letter, Hastings advised all emigrants to avoid the canyon road, and pursue over the mountains a course which he faintly outlined. In order to obtain further information, and, if possible, to induce Hastings to return and act as guide, Messrs. Reed, Stanton, and Pike were sent forward to overtake the advance company. This was accomplished after a fatiguing trip, which so exhausted the horses of Stanton and Pike that these gentlemen were unable to return to the Donner Party. Hastings was overtaken at a point near the southern end of Great Salt Lake, and came back with Reed to the foot of the bluffs overlooking the present city of Salt Lake. Here he declared that he must return to the company he was piloting, and despite the urgent entreaties of Reed, decided that it was his duty to start back the next morning. He finally consented, however, to ascend to the summit of the Wahsatch Mountains, from which he endeavored, as best he could, to point out the direction in which the wagons must travel from the head of Weber Canyon. Reed proceeded alone on the route indicated, taking notes of the country and occasionally blazing trees to assist him in retracing the course.

Wm. G. Murphy (now of Marysville, Cal.) says that the wagons remained in the meadows at the head of Weber Canyon until Reed's return. They then learned that the train which preceded them had been compelled to travel very slowly down the Weber River, filling in many irregular places with brush and dirt; that at last they had reached a place where vast perpendicular pillars of rock approached so closely on either side that the river had barely space to flow between, and just here the water plunged over a precipice. To lower the wagons down this precipice had been a dreadful task.

The Donner Party unanimously decided to travel across the mountains in a more direct line toward Salt Lake. They soon found rolling highlands and small summit valleys on the divide between Weber River and Salt Lake. Following down one of the small streams, they found a varying, irregular canyon, down which they passed, filling its small stream with brush and rocks, crossing and recrossing it, making roads, breaking and mending wagons, until three weeks' time had expired. The entire country was heavily covered with timber and underbrush. When the party arrived at the outlet of this stream into Salt Lake Valley, they found it utterly impassable. It was exceedingly narrow, and was filled with huge rocks from the cliffs on either side. Almost all the oxen in the train were necessary in drawing each wagon out of the canyon and up the steep overhanging mountain. While in this canyon, Stanton and Pike came up to the company. These gentlemen encountered great hardships after their horses gave out, and were almost starved to death when they reached the train.

Instead of reaching Salt Lake in a week, as had been promised, the party were over thirty days in making the trip. No words can describe what they endured on this Hastings Cut-off. The terrible delay was rendering imminent the dangers which awaited them on the Sierra Nevada. At last, upon ascending the steep rugged mountain before mentioned, the vision of Great Salt Lake, and the extensive plains surrounding it, burst upon their enraptured gaze. All were wild with joy and gratitude for their deliverance from the terrible struggle through which they had just passed, and all hoped for a prosperous, peaceful journey over pleasant roads throughout the remainder of the trip to California. Alas! there were trials in the way compared with which their recent struggles were insignificant. But for the fatal delay caused by the Hastings Cut-off, all would have been well, but now the summer was passed, their teams and themselves were well-nigh exhausted, and their slender stock of provisions nearly consumed.

Chapter III.

A Grave of Salt Members of the Mystic Tie Twenty Wells A Desolate Alkaline Waste Abandoned on the Desert A Night of Horror A Steer Maddened by Thirst The Mirage Yoking an Ox and a Cow "Cacheing" Goods The Emigrant's Silent Logic A Cry for Relief Two Heroic Volunteers A Perilous Journey Letters to Capt. Sutter.

Near the southern shore of great Salt Lake the Donner Party encamped on the third or fourth of September, 1846. The summer had vanished, and autumn had commenced tinting, with crimson and gold, the foliage on the Wahsatch Mountains. While encamped here, the party buried the second victim claimed by death. This time it was a poor consumptive named Luke Halloran. Without friend or kinsman, Halloran had joined the train, and was traveling to California in hopes that a change of climate might effect a cure. Alas! for the poor Irishman, when the leaves began to fall from the trees his spirit winged its flight to the better land. He died in the wagon of Captain George Donner, his head resting in Mrs. Tamsen Donner's lap. It was at sundown. The wagons had just halted for the night. The train had driven up slowly, out of respect to the dying emigrant. Looking up into Mrs. Donner's face, he said: "I die happy." Almost while speaking, he died. In return for the many kindnesses he had received during the journey, he left Mr. Donner such property as he possessed, including about fifteen hundred dollars in coin. Hon. Jas. F. Breen, of South San Juan, writes: "Halloran's body was buried in a bed of almost pure salt, beside the grave of one who had perished in the preceding train. It was said at the time that bodies thus deposited would not decompose, on account of the preservative properties of the

History of the Donner Party - 6/40

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