“They could neither go back nor remain in place. Like their wagons, they had no brakes, no way of stopping the high-stakes journey on which they had wagered their lives and fortunes.” –
The Donner Party was originally known as the Reed Party, lead by James Reed. James Reed and his family traveled West in hopes of finding a more successful lifestyle and a cure for his wife’s headaches. Many other families and individuals joined Reed on this journey, including the Donner Family.
James Reed followed an untested and new trail, proposed by Lansford Hastings. This trail was full of difficult and impossible terrain. In addition to the difficulties that the trail presented, the group was also met with illness, attacks from Native Americans, and bad weather.
The group got trapped by a lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains, now known as Donner Lake. At this lake, part of the group broke off to get help. This rescue group was called the Forlorn Hope. Many people in both groups died of hypothermia and starvation.
When both groups ran out of food and became desperate, they turned to cannibalism to survive. Some people even had to eat their own relatives. Once the Forlorn Hope were able to make it beyond the mountains, they were able to get help for the rest of their group. However, only a few people at a time could be rescued.
In the end, only 38 of the 83 party members survived the journey.