Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1849 - Vol. 1

By Kenneth L. Holmes | Go to book overview

The Donner Party Letters Tamsen E. Donner Virginia E. B. Reed

INTRODUCTION

On March 26 and April 2, 1846, there appeared an advertisement in the Sangamo Journal of Springfield, Illinois, with the headline: "WESTWARD, HO! FOR OREGON AND CALIFORNIA!" The ad had been placed by "G. Donner and others" and called for young men who might want to "go to California without costing them anything." They were to be hired by "gentlemen" who would leave Sangamon County the first of April.1 Not one word was said about women, but it is with two of the women of the party that we are especially concerned because of letters they wrote back home telling of their experiences.

The Donner Party seems early on to have been called the Donner-Reed Party because George Donner and James Reed were the principal organizers of the enterprise. The letters published here were written by two women, one from each of these families.

Tamsen Donner's letters have to do with the early part of the overland journey. She was Mrs. George Donner,2 and, if anyone can be called the heroine of the awful trag-

____________________
1
Quoted in full in Dale Morgan, Overland in 1846, ( Georgetown, Calif., 1963), II, 491.
2
Tamsen Eustis Donner was George Donner's third wife. She was already a widow, a native of Newburyport, Massachusetts. The marriage took place on May 24, 1839. Eliza P. Donner Houghton, in her Expedition of the Donner Party ( Chicago, 1911) tells a good deal about the personal aspects of the Donner family. Eliza was the third daughter of the union, born March 8, 1843.

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