Eliza (Donner) Houghton

Eliza Poor (Donner) Houghton (1843 - 1922)

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Eliza Poor Houghton formerly Donner
Born in Sangamon, Illinois, United Statesmap
Ancestors ancestors
Wife of — married in Sacramento, California, United Statesmap
[children unknown]
Died in Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United Statesmap
Profile last modified | Created 11 Sep 2011
This page has been accessed 3,375 times.

Categories: Donner Party.

The Donner Party
Eliza Donner was one of 81 American Pioneers.
They set out for California in a wagon train and became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada in 1846. Some of these
immigrants resorted to cannibalism to survive


Eliza Poor Donner was born March 8, 1843 in Sangamon, Illinois, the daughter of George A. Donner and Tamsen (Eustis) Donner. She and her family were trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains during a snow storm. They were forced to resort to eating human flesh to survive. Eliza was 3 years old at the time.[1]

Eliza is reported to be the child who could never come to grips with the report that she had survived on human flesh, suffering depression all her life. She was also the youngest survivor of the party. Eliza wrote a detailed account of the events that are as moving and gripping as any work of fiction while being true to the facts.

In May, the Fallon party arrived with horses laden with many packs of goods, but their only refugee was Lewis Keseberg, from the cabin near the lake. It was evening, and some one came to our door, spoke to Elitha and Leanna in low tones and went away. My sisters turned, put their arms about us and wept bitterly. Then, gently, compassionately, the cruel, desolating truth was told. Ah, how could we believe it? No anxious watching, no weary waiting would ever bring father and mother to us again!

Accusations soon surfaced that while George died of his wounds, Tamsen's body parts were found in a stew pot in Keesberg's cabin along with her cache of valuables. It appeared he had killed her.

Intense excitement and indignation prevailed at the Fort after Captain Fallon and other members of his party gave their account of the conditions found at the mountain camps, and of interviews had with Keseberg, whom they now called, "cannibal, robber, and murderer." The wretched man was accused by this party, not only of having needlessly partaken of human flesh, and of having appropriated coin and other property which should have come to us orphaned children, but also of having wantonly taken the life of Mrs. Murphy and of my mother.

More problems were in store for these young children:

Settlement was demanded by the rescuers, under promise that its members should have not only a per diem as rescuers, but also one half of all the property that they might bring to the settlement, and they had brought valuable packs from the camps of the Donners. Captain Fallon also had two hundred and twenty-five dollars in gold coin taken from concealment on Keseberg's person, and two hundred and seventy-five dollars additional taken from a cache that Keseberg had disclosed after the Captain had partially strangled him, and otherwise brutally treated him, to extort information of hidden treasure.

It was decided that all of the Donner possessions would be sold at auction with half the proceeds going to the rescuers while half would go to the children.

With their men at war, the women of Sutter Fort couldn't afford to support them longer. Work for good was found for the two oldest girls and they shared with the younger. They were homeless and frequently slept wherever they found themselves at nightfall. Relief finally came when Eliza married Sherman O. Houghton onOctober 10, 1861 in Sacramento, California.

Eliza died February 19, 1922 in Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States

Letter from Eliza P. Donner Houghton[2]

Who can wonder at my indignation and grief in little girlhood, when I was told of acts of brutality, inhumanity, and cannibalism, attributed to those starved parents, who in life had shared their last morsels of food with helpless companions? read more


  1. Wikipedia: Donner Party.
See Also:
  • Dixon, Kelly, Shannon Novak, Gwen Robbins, Julie Schablitsky, Richard Scott , and Guy Tasa (2010), "Men, Women, and Children are Starving: Archaeology of the Donner Family Camp". American Antiquity 75(3):627-656
  • McGlashan, Charles (1879). History of the Donner Party: A Tragedy of the Sierra Nevada: 11th edition (1918), A Carlisle & Company, San Francisco
  • Rarick, Ethan (2008). Desperate Passage: The Donner Party's Perilous Journey West, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-530502-7
  • Rehart, Catherine Morison (2000), The Valley's Legends & Legacies III, Word Dancer Press, ISBN 978-1-884995-18-7
  • State of California Park and Recreation Commission (2003), Donner Memorial State Park General Plan and Environmental Report, Volume I. Retrieved March 24, 2010.
  • Stewart, George R. (1936). Ordeal by Hunger: The Story of the Donner Party: supplemented edition (1988), Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-61159-8
  • Unruh, John (1993). The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840–60, University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-06360-0

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DNA Connections
It may be possible to confirm family relationships with Eliza by comparing test results with other carriers of her ancestors' mitochondrial DNA. However, there are no known mtDNA test-takers in her direct maternal line. It is likely that these autosomal DNA test-takers will share DNA with Eliza:

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Images: 4
Eliza Houghton Image 1
Eliza Houghton Image 1

Eliza Poor Donner
Eliza Poor Donner

Georgia Babcock Image 2
Georgia Babcock Image 2

Alder Creek Memorial
Alder Creek Memorial

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Eliza is 22 degrees from Walter Morrison, 28 degrees from Alison Wilkins and 19 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.

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