Donner Party And Cannibalism
The Donner Party refers to the group of 87 trailblazers that decided to leave Illinois and head west for a better life in the year 1846. However, instead of following the conventional wagon trail, this group decided to take a shortcut, which was their downfall. After the group was rescued from the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, rumors were floating that the surviving members resorted to cannibalism in order to survive the harsh winter and until rescue reached them. Just 47 members survived the trail.
The group’s problem started at Wyoming when they listened to a trail guide named Lansford Hastings and decided to take a shorter route through the Wasatch Mountains in Utah to reach the Great Salt Lake. However, the terrain was extremely bad for the wagons and the group lost them along with cattle and horses they were traveling with. Also, the short cut involved clearing the route, so this slowed them down. The group had initially planned to reach California by the month of September. However, they were snowed in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in November.
After failing to climb the summit, the Donner Party decided to establish a camp at Truckee Lake using rudimentary cabins to escape from the harsh weather. However, provisions that the group was carrying did not last long and soon the members were starving. This prompted 15 people to try and cross the mountains to reach safety and send a rescue party. However, out of the 15, just 7 survived. It is claimed that the 7 managed to survive by feeding on the other dead members of their group. At the same time, rescue was sent from California, but the party could not reach the Donner Party because of inclement weather.
The following year in February when the first rescue team reached the surviving members at Truckee Lake, now known as Donner Lake, they found the survivors weak and near starvation. However, the weather was bad and it took another three rescue attempts to safe all the survivors. It is claimed that all those who survived had cannibalized the dead members of their group.
However, the members claimed that they did not resort to cannibalism. A writer named Charles McGlashan kept in touch with the survivors for 40 years and tried to speak to them about their ordeal While some were not open to discussing what happened, others did speak about it. McGlashan ended up writing about Donner Party and cannibalism in his book entitled History of the Donner Party. The book was published in 1879, but did not contain many facts and details. After the book was published, Mrs Georgia Donner, one of the surviving members of the party, wrote a letter to McGlashan and clarified some mistakes in the book. She claimed that human flesh was cooked for all the members at the Donner Lake, but was given just to the children. In this same letter, it was written that she remembered Elizabeth Donner saying that she had cooked Samuel Shoemaker’s arm.
However, when archaeological teams visited the Donner Lake campsite, they did not find any evidence of human remains. They did find evidence of bones from rabbits and other animals, but no human bones. Hence, it is not surely known whether the Donner Party resorted to cannibalism or not.
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Wikipedia: Donner Party