Donner - Reed Tragedy by Ted Davidson


The Pass
From the granite knob (just left of photo) the trail gently climbed along the base of the talus to the relatively flat pass (hidden behind small granite ridge (arrow-right).



Trapped by the Snow (November 5, 1846)
Near the east end of Truckee Lake, the first two groups of the now-divided party began building two small, crude cabins and expanding another that had been built two years earlier. The Murphy and Eddy families built their cabin, using this huge granite boulder as the northeast, fireplace wall. [Picture of boulder taken at the Donner Monument at Donner Lake; man in front of bronze memorial plaque is 6'2" tall.]

Note:The seventeen snowshoers left the cabins on December 16 in a desperate attempt to avoid the unrelenting starvation at Truckee Lake by crossing the pass and struggling on to the presumed safety of Bear Valley.


Sawtooth Ridge (January 1, 1847)
The ten surviving snowshoers (as of this date) were both tantalized and disheartened by the view to the southwest from the western end of Sawtooth Ridge. Four miles away, the two steep-walled canyons of the North Fork of the American River joined. The snowshoers realized they must struggle down a thousand feet, cross the river on a snow bridge and then toil back up on the south side before they could continue southwest to the Sacramento Valley-- which they could see in the distant haze beyond the deep V cut through the mountains.



American River Canyon (January 7, 1847
The snowshoers (only seven remaining as of this date), having abandoned their snowshoes and eaten the rawhide lacings-- as well as the snowshoers who had died-- stood among scattered patches of snow as they reacted to the dreadful barrier they faced. Standing on the end of the ridge (arrow-left) that ran southwest from [Iowa Hill], they looked across the canyon at their immediate destination:the west rim of the canyon wall-- at the same elevation and only a single crow-flight mile away (arrow-right). However, half dead from starvation, they had to fight their way down a thousand feet to the river and then struggle up the other side.

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