Donner - Reed Tragedy by Ted Davidson

Fork in the Trail (July 20, 1846)
The Reed and Donner families with their nine wagons, left Springfield, Illinois on April 14, 1846. They were not considered a distinct party as they traveled with much larger groups of wagons across the prairie from Independence, Missouri to the Continental Divide.

Eighteen trail-miles southwest of the Divide and South Pass, the trail to California and Oregon forked. Most of the wagons that year went to the right, westward over Greenwood's Cutoff via Fort Hall-- the established California-Oregon Trail.

However, on July 20, 1846, splitting off from wagons moving to the right, Jim Reed led his party of twenty wagons to the left, southwestward into the barren, sage-covered desolation toward Fort Bridger, where Hastings was waiting to lead the wagons across his new cutoff-- about 350 miles shorter than the trail to the right.

Note: [Bracketed place-names and comments in captions refer to present-day locations or references.]







Fort Bridger (July 28, 1846) [Replica]
Hastings had already left! He had not waited as promised! This was the last manifestation of civilization until Johnson's Ranch in the Central Valley of California.







Inside the fort compound. Open door to store. Beaver skin compactor/bailer (upright log mechanism on right).


Living quarters, far left; open door to blacksmith shop, center; open door to store, right.

Blacksmith shop

Inside store

Blacksmith shop



Pass at Big Mountain (August 17, 1846)
To the southwest from the pass [at Big Mountain], the party got its first magnificient, yet awesome, view of part of the Great Salt Lake (arrow) and the mountains on the horizon beyond the lake. They were shocked, realizing the additional back-breaking, time-consuming trail building that would be necessary to get through the rest of the Wasatch Mountains to reach the valley.




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