Heavy snow now began to intercept their weary way. They were finally compelled to take refuge in an abandoned cabin near the shore of what is now known as Donner Lake, and there, under circumstances of horror and terror that can never fully be comprehended and appreciated, the devoted men, women and children were imprisoned in the snow until the first relief party reached them, February 19th, with scant provisions, brought in at life’s peril on snowshoes. A “Forlorn Hope” had tried to force its passage over the snowy heights. Fifteen brave men and women determined to see if they could not win their way over and send back help. Out of the fifteen seven only survived and reached the Sacramento Valley, and they were compelled to sustain life by eating the flesh of those who had perished.
The second relief party was organized by Mr. Reed,—the banished leader—and thirty-one of the party were still in camp at Donner Lake when he arrived, with nine stalwart men to help, on March 1st. On the 3rd nine of them left, with seventeen of the starving emigrants, but they were caught in a fearful snow-storm as they crossed the summit, and ten miles below were compelled to go into camp. Their provisions gave out, Mrs. Graves died, leaving an emaciated babe in arms and three other children, one a five-year-old, who died the next day. Isaac Donner died the third night. Reed and Greenwood, carrying Reed’s two children, Mattie and James Jr., with one of the survivors who could walk, now struggled down the mountain in the hope that they could reach help to go back and finish the rescue work. These met Mr. Woodworth who organized the third relief party, of seven men, who returned to “Starved Camp,” to find the survivors begging piteously for something to eat. This relief party divided into two parts—one to go over the summit to give help to the needy there, the other to get the “Starved Camp” remnant to safety. The first section succeeded in their mission of mercy and a few days later caught up with the other section from Starved Camp.
Mr. C.F. McGlashan, formerly editor of the Truckee Republican, has written a graphic account, with great care and desire for accuracy, of the complete expedition, which gives the heart-rending story with completeness, and I expect to publish ere long the personal story of Virginia Reed Murphy, who is still alive, one of the few survivors of the ill-fated party.