Trapped in the Snow
The worst tragedy in the annals of western migration befell members of the Donner Party, who were trapped in the snow-bound Sierra Nevada during the winter of 1846-1847. They did not journey west for gold; Marshall’s discovery was almost two years in the future when the brothers George and Jacob Donner and James Frazier Reed left Illinois to join other families traveling to California in covered wagons. At the Little Sandy in Wyoming, the Donners, Reeds, and other families split from the main caravan to take a “short cut” that forced them to cut trail through the rugged Wasatch Mountains, and then cross the blazing Great Salt Lake Desert, where many members lost livestock, supplies and belongings. Struggling on, they reached the mountain pass that would take them to safety when it was already blocked by snow, and so were forced to make camp at a small alpine lake. Theirs is a tale of wrong choices, mishaps, starvation and suffering, death, desperation, and heroic actions. Slightly more than half of them survived the ordeal.