In the spring of 1846, the Donner party left Independence, Missouri and began the pilgrimage westward to California. This pioneering family met up with other families; totaling 87 people. Together, a train of wagons could traverse the hardships ahead more easily. Their hardships became legend.
First, they choose a “short-cut” known as the “Hastings Cut-off”. It took 30 days to reach Reno, Nevada instead of the usual week. Here they spent extra days repairing wagons, getting warm and re-supplying. This waiting proved fatal, as winter storms were poised to dump snow on the Sierra Nevadas.
The party was stopped by heavy snowfall east of today’s Truckee, California on October 28. A camp of lean-tos was set. The snow kept falling. Food ran out. One died of malnutrition. They began to eat bark and boiled hides.
A small party was sent out to bring back help. On February 19th, the first of four rescue teams found forty-eight survivors. It took almost two months to get all the survivors out. The second rescue team discovered “half-eaten bodies” littering the camp. The survivors were described as “more like demons than human beings, surrounded by the remains of their unholy feast.”
87 people started out for California. 46 arrived.