The Forlorn Hope
Weary and low on supplies, the Donner Party arrived at the pass through the Sierra Nevada at the end of October 1846; but it was already blocked by early snow storms. After unsuccessfully trying to cross with their wagons, they established camp on November 4 at a small alpine lake, hoping to wait for a break in the weather. A few members made a second unsuccessful try, on foot, in mid-November. Food supplies were so low, and their shelters so inadequate, that when a third storm ended they knew they must find help or they would all die. To this end 17 desperate men and women strapped on makeshift snowshoes and set out, on December 16. Two turned back before reaching the pass; 15 courageously trudged onward through sub-freezing temperatures, with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, a blanket apiece, and very little food. The journey should have taken 10 days; but they got lost, and lived a nightmare for 33 days before they found salvation. By then, only seven of the 15 were still alive. History knows them as The Forlorn Hope.