Donner Party

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Nevada Territorymap
Surname/tag: Donner, Reed, Eustis, Murphy, Foster, Eddy,
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The Donner Party were 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.

Families and Members

Donner Family

George Donner, born in North Carolina, had gradually moved west to Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, with a one-year sojourn to Texas.In early 1846, he was about 60 years old. His 44-year-old wife Tamzene and their three daughters, Frances, 6, Georgia, 4, and Eliza, 3, and George's daughters from a previous marriage, Elitha, 14, and Leanna, 12, went with him. George's younger brother, 56-year-old Jacob, also joined the party, with his wife Elizabeth, 45, two teenage stepsons: Solomon Hook, 14, and William Hook, 12, and five children: George, 9; Mary, 7; Isaac, 6, Lewis, 4; and Samuel, 1. Also traveling with the Donner brothers were teamsters Hiram O. Miller, 29; Samuel Shoemaker, 25; Noah James, 16; Charles Burger, 30; John Denton, 28; and Augustus Spitzer, 30.

The Donner family suffered more than most families. The broken axle on George Donner's wagon caused the Donners to stop at Alder Creek, eight miles from the cabins at the Lake. Caught by the sudden storm the first week of November, and hampered by a shortage of large trees and strong men to cut them, The Donners did not construct cabins. Instead, they built crude "brush sheds" covered by their wagon canvas.

George Donner age 60, died at the Alder Creek camp on March 27, 1847
Children from previous marriage:
Elitha Donner Daughter age 14, 1st Rescue
Leanna Donner Daughter age 12, 1st Resuce
Tamsen Donner age 44, died at the cabin of Lewis Keseberg after George died
Frances Donner age 6, 3rd Rescue *
Eliza Donner age 3, 3rd Rescue *
Georgia Donner age 4, 3rd Rescue *

Jacob Donner age 56, died at the Alder Creek camp in mid-December, 1846.
Elizabeth Donner age 45, at the Alder Creek camp in April 1847
Solomon Hook age 14, son of Elizabeth 2nd Rescue *
William Hook age 12, 1st Rescue, gorged to death, Bear Camp February 28, 1847
Children of Jacob and Elizabeth Donner
George Donner, Jr. age 9 1st Rescue *
Mary Donner age 7 1st Rescue *
Isaac Donner age 5, 2nd Rescue died at Starved Camp
Samuel Donner died at Alder Camp March 12, 1847
Lewis Donner Age 4 died at Alder Camp, March, 1847

Reed Family

James F. Reed, a 45-year-old native of Northern Ireland, had settled in Illinois in 1831. He was accompanied by his wife Margret, 32; step-daughter Virginia, 13; daughter Martha Jane "Patty," 8; sons James and Thomas, aged 5 and 3; and Sarah Keyes, Margret Reed's 70-year-old mother, who was in the advanced stages of consumption.In addition to leaving financial worries behind, Reed hoped that California's climate would help Margret, who had long suffered from ill health.The Reeds hired three men to drive the ox teams: Milford (Milt) Elliot, 28; James Smith, 25; and Walter Herron, 25. Baylis Williams, 24, went along as handyman and his sister Eliza, 25, as the family's cook.

All members of the Reed family survived.

James Reed age 45, banished for murder, reached California first and organized rescue *
Margaret Reed age 34, 1st Rescue *
Children of James and Margaret Reed
Virginia Reed age 12, 1st Rescue *
Martha Jane "Patty" Reed age 9, 2nd Rescue *
James Reed Jr age 5, 1st Rescue *
Thomas Reed age 4, 2nd Rescue *

Graves Family

The Graves family consisted of 57-year-old Franklin Graves, his 47-year-old wife Elizabeth, their nine children, Mary, 20, William, 18, Eleanor, 15, Lovina, 13, Nancy 9, Jonathan, 7, Franklin, Jr., 5, Elizabeth, 1, and married daughter Sarah, 22, plus a son-in-law Jay Fosdick, 23, and a 25-year-old teamster named John Snyder, traveling together in three wagons.

Franklin Graves aged 57, died at Camp of Death 25 December 1846 member of "The Forlorn Hope"
Elizabeth Graves aged 45, 2nd Rescue * died at Starved Camp March 1847
Children of Franklin and Elizabeth Graves
Sarah Fosdick age 22, Survived member of "The Forlorn Hope"
Jay Fosdick age 23, died 1847 one of the fifteen snowshoers, husband of Sarah Graves member of "The Forlorn Hope"
Mary Ann Graves age 19, Survived member of "The Forlorn Hope"
William Graves age 17, Survived 1st Rescue *
Eleanor Graves age 14, Survived 1st Rescue *
Lovina Graves age 12, Survived 1st Rescue *
Nancy Graves age 8, Survived 2nd Rescue *
Jonathan Graves age 7, Survived 2nd Rescue * but died the next Summer from the effects of the privations and exposures of the previous Winter
Franklin Graves Jr age 5, 2nd Rescue * died at Starved Camp March 1847
Elizabeth Graves age 1, Survived 2nd Rescue * but died the next Summer from the effects of the privations and exposures of the previous Winter


Eddy Family

William Eddy was the only member of his family to survive . In mid-December 1846, William Eddy set off to seek help, leaving his wife and two small children behind three months later when he returned with a relief party, his wife Eleanor and children James and Margaret were dead.

William Eddy age 28, survived member of the "Forlorn Hope"
Eleanor Eddy age 25, died 7 February 1847 at the Murphy cabin.
James Eddy age 3, died before March 13 1847 Third Rescue *
Margaret Eddy age 1, died 4 February, 1847 at the Murphy cabin.


Murphy Family

The Murphy Family were a large family, but very little is known about them. They were not as well off as the Donners and Reed Family and very little records of them remain,the Murphy cabin site was excavated archaeologically in the 1980s by Donald L. Hardesty ,it was in this cabin that the Murphy family and the Eddy family spent the winter of 1846-1847.

Levinah Murphy age 36, died March 1847 at the Donner Lake Camp 3rd Rescue *
Children of Levinah Murphy
Sarah Ann Murphy Foster age 19, Survived one of the five young women who joined the "Forlorn Hope" she left her son behind and she never saw him again
William Foster age 30, survived husband of Sarah Murphy one of the "Forlorn Hope"
Jeremiah Foster age 1, died March 1847 at the Murphy Cabin, Donner Lake Camp
Harriet Murphy Pike age 18, member of the "Forlorn Hope"
William Pike age 32, died October 1846 along the Truckee River in Nevada husband of Harriet Murphy
Naomi Pike age 2, survived 1st Resecue *
Catherine Pike age 9 months died February 20, 1847 at the Murphy Cabin, Donner Lake Camp
John Murphy age 16, died 1 January 1847 at the Murphy cabin, Donner Lake Camp
Mary Murphy age 14, survived 1st Resecue *
Lemuel Murphy age 12, died 27 December 1846 at Camp of Death member of the "Forlorn Hope"
William Murphy age 10, survived William set out with the "Forlorn Hope" with other members of his family, but had no snowshoes and had to turn back other wise he would of also died 1st Resecue *
Simon Murphy age 8, survived 3rd Resecue *


Breen Family

Patrick Breen was born in County Carlow, Ireland in 1795, He emigrated to Canada in 1828 an there he married Margaret Bulger.The Breens had two sons in Canada, then moved to Springfield, Illinois, about 1834, where they resided briefly before moving on Keokuk in Lee County, Iowa. In 1835 a son James was born, who died and six more children were later born in Iowa. Patrick worked on riverboats, but primarily was a farmer and acquired a half-section of land about three miles northwest of Keokuk.

Religous intolerance was most likely a factor in his decision to relocate to California, that and the promise of free land. Patrick sold their property in Iowa and outfitted the family for the journey, and set out in three wagons to rendezvous with other emigrants in the spring of 1846. They were accompanied by their friend and neighbor, Patrick Dolan. Like most of the other eventual members of the Donner Party, they started out in the company captained by William H. Russell.

Patrick Breen age 53, Survived. 3rd Rescue *
Margaret Breen age 39, ? Rescue*
Children of Patrick and Margaret Breen.
John Breen age 15, ? Rescue *
Edward Breen age 14, 1st Rescue *
Patrick Breen Jr age 10, ? Rescue *
Simon Breen age 9, ? Rescue *
James Breen age 6, ? Rescue *
Peter Breen age 4, ? Rescue *
Margaret "Isabella" Breen age 2, 3rd Rescue *

McCutchen Family

William McCutchen is described as "a great stalwart Kentuckian, full six feet six inches in height" he was born in Davidson County, Tennessee in about 1816. The McCluchen's were members of another party of immigrants but fortunes made them join the Donner Party at Fort Bridger The Party realized that they did not have enough to see them through to California and "Big Bill" McCutchen and Charles Stanton volunteered to go ahead to Sutters Fort . Big Bill became ill after arriving at Sutter’s Fort, and Stanton returned with supplies alone of the group, Big Bill later tride to reach his family but was prevented by weather and it wasnt until February in the second relief that he reached camp, his wife had already reached safety with the Forlone Hope but his dauaghter Harriet was dead.

William McCutchen age 30, Survived. *
Amanda McCutchen age 26, Survived Forlorn Hope*
Child of William and Amanda McCutchen.
Harriet McCutchen age 2, Died February 2, 1847

Wolfinger Family

Mr. and Mrs. Wolfinger were among several German speaking emigrants in the Donner Party,they tended to keep to them self so not much is known about them. There are no known descendants Dorothea Wolfinger of the Donner Party. Her son Albert died unmarried, as far as is known. Her daughter Rosa married Conrad Schuler in 1875 and in turn had a daughter, Rosa Schuler, who died unmarried in Mendocino County, California, in 1945.[1]

Mr Wolfinger age ?,died October 1846 in Truckee River was killed by Joseph Reinhardt
Dorothea Wolfinger age 20, survived First Rescue*

Keseberg Family

Lewis Keseberg age 33, Survived. 4th Rescue*
Philipinne Keseberg age 33, Survived. 3rd Rescue*
Children of Lewis and Philipinne Keseberg.
Ada Keseberg age 4, Died, February 23, 1847. Donner Lake
Lewis Keseberg age 1, Died, January 24, 1847. Donner Lake

Teamsters , Hired Help and Friends

Teamsters for the Donner Family
John Denton age 28, died March 1847 in Yuba Pass, 1st Rescue
Noah James age 16, survived 1st Rescue *
Samuel Shoemaker age 25, died December 20, 1846 at Alder Creek.
Augustus Spitzer age 30, died February 8, 1847 Donner Lake camp.
Charles Burger age 30, died December 29, 1846 Donner Lake camp was one of the "Forlorn Hope" but had to turn back as he had no snow shoes.
Hiram Miller age 29, survived Miller left the Donner Party on July 2 to join eight other single men who set out with pack mules. This was the Bryant-Russell Party, it was the first group to take Hastings Cutoff.Hiram Miller later helped rescue the trapped emigrants as a member of the Second and Third Reliefs.
Jean Baptiste Trudeau age 16, survived 3rd Rescue * hired by the Donner Family en route.
Antonio age 23, died December 1846 "Camp of Death." member of the "Forlorn Hope" he had been hired by the Donner Family to herd the loose cattle.
Charles Stanton age 35, died 23 December 1847 when he attempted to lead a party over the mountains on snowshoe,Charles Stanton was a bachelor travelling with the Donner Family.
Luke Halloran age 25, died August 25, 1846 Great Salt Lake he was travelling with the Donner Family as he was to ill to ride on horse back.
Teamster for the Graves Family
John Snyder age 25, died October 5, 1846 as the party was travelling along the Humboldt River James Reed’s teamster Milt Elliott and John Snyder became involved in a dispute,James Reed intervened and John Snyder was stabbed in the chest and died.
Teamster for the Reed Family
Milford Elliott age 28, died February 26, 1847 Milt is most likely the first person cannibalized at the Donner Lake camp.
Walter Herron age 27,survived left with James F. Reed when Reed was banished for murder in October 1846
James Smith age 25, died December 20, 1846 Donner Lake Camp
Baylis Williams age 25, died December 14, 1846 first to die at Donner Lake Camp worked for the Reed Family
Eliza Williams age 31, survived worked for the Reed Family 1st Rescue *
Teamsters for the Breen Family
Patrick Dolan age 35, 26 December 1846 at "Camp of Death."A bachelor farmer and friend of the Breen family.
Teamsters for the Keseberg Family
Hardcoop age 60, died October 1846 Nevada desert.
An associate of Mr. Wolfinger
Joseph Reinhardt age 30, died after October Alder Creek.
Salvador age 28, Salvador was a Miwok Native American who left with the "Forlorn Hope" and was killed in January 1847 by William Foster for food.
Luis age 19, Luis was a Miwok Native American who left with the "Forlorn Hope" and was killed in January 1847 by William Foster for food.

Personal Accounts

Eliza P.Donner Houghton

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

Virginia Reed Murphy

The members of the Donner party then held a council to decide upon the fate of my father, while we anxiously awaited the verdict. They refused to accept the plea of self-defense and decided that my father should be banished from the company and sent into the wilderness alone. It was a cruel sentence. And all this animosity towards my father was caused by Louis Keseburg, a German who had joined our company away back on the plains. Keseburg was married to a young and pretty German girl, and used to abuse her, and was in the habit of beating her till she was black and blue. This aroused all the manhood in my father and he took Keseburg to task...The feeling against my father at one time was so strong that lynching was proposed. He was no coward and he bared his neck, saying, "Come on, gentlemen," but no one moved. It was thought more humane, perhaps, to send him into the wilderness to die of slow starvation or be murdered by the Indians; but my father did not die. God took care of him and his family, and at Donner Lake we seemed especially favored by the Almighty as not one of our family perished, and we were the only family no one member of which was forced to eat of human flesh to keep body and soul together. When the sentence of banishment was communicated to my father, he refused to go, feeling that he was justified before God and man, as he had only acted in self-defense.

Across the Plains in the Donner Party: A Personal Narrative of the Overland Trip to California. By Virginia Reed Murphy, 1833-06-23 - 1921. As printed in The Century Magazine, Volume 42, 1891, pp. 409-426.

Patrick Breen

“came to this place on the 31st of last month that it snowed we went on to the pass the snow so deep we were unable to find the road, when within 3 miles of the summit then turned back to this shanty on the Lake, Stanton came one day after we arriveed here we again took our teams & waggons & made another unsuccessful attempt to cross in company with Stanton we returned to the shanty it contiuneing to snow all the time we were here we now have killed most part of our cattle having to stay here untill next spring & live on poor beef without bread or salt.

"Mrs Murphy said here yesterday that thought she would Commence on Milt. & eat him. I dont that she has done so yet, it is distressing."

Diary of Patrick Breen

Fourth Relief Diary

At the mouth of the tent stood a large iron kettle, filled with human flesh, cut up. It was from the body of George Donner. The head had been split open, and the brains extracted therefrom, and, to the appearance, he had not been long dead—not over three or four days, at the most. Near by the kettle stood a chair, and thereupon three legs of a bullock that had been shot down in the early part of the winter, and snowed upon before it could be dressed. The meat was found sound and good, and, with the exception of a small piece out of the shoulder, wholly untouched.

Mrs. Donner, he (Keseberg) said, had, in attempting to cross from one cabin to another, missed the trail, and slept out one night; that she came to his camp the next night, very much fatigued; he made her a cup of coffee, placed her in bed, and rolled her well in the blankets; but the next morning found her dead. He ate her body, and found her flesh the best he had ever tasted. He further stated, that he obtained from her body at least four pounds of fat. No traces of her person could be found, nor the body of Mrs. Murphy either. When the last company left camp, three weeks previous, Mrs. Donner was in perfect health, though unwilling to come and leave her husband there, and offered $500 to any person or persons who would come out and bring them in—saying this in the presence of Kiesburg.


  1. Wolfinger Family.

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Comments: 4

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Just finished reading 'The Best Land under Heaven, the Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny' by Michael Wallis published 2017, it has about 60 pages of sources and bibliography, plus lots of information on the people involved in the 4 rescues and attempts.
posted by M Ross
Jacob's son Lewis ended up being the only missing individual.
posted by Lance Martin
I have uploaded a memorial photo from Alder Creek. There are some names listed that do not have profiles. I am going one by one to see if I can find the discrepancies. [Alder Creek Memorial]
posted by Lance Martin
Thank you so much for the tremendous work on this page.

Is there a page that provides information on the people who helped with the rescue attempts/successes?

posted by S (Hill) Willson