A Winter Tragedy: The Donner Party in 1846/47 (Part 5)
The Survivors Move Forward
Part 4 briefly described how the larger Donner Party got split into three groups–the Donner family at Alder Creek, the other families at Donner Lake, and the group that set off on snowshoes to get help. Three relief parties were sent up to get the survivors and bring them to California.
Mary Blue is thought to have died before the trip because George Donner had married a third time to Tamzene Dozier. George died in the mountains, in part due to his wounded hand, and Tamzene was last seen sitting with him as he died in their makeshift tent. The daughters of Mary Blue and George Donner, Elitha Cumi Donner and Leanna Charity Donner survived and ended up as orphans in California. They were taken in by a couple but left that home as soon as they were old enough.
Elitha (1832 – 1923) married one of her rescuers, Perry McCoon, in 1847, later in the same year they had been rescued. Perry died in 1851 as a result of a horseback riding accident. She then married Benjamin Wilder. In her adult life, she spent much time speaking to the conditions of the winter tragedy and denying there was any cannibalism involved.
Leanna (1834 -1930) married John Mattias App.
Elizabeth Blue, married Jacob Donner. Her first husband, James Hook, abandoned the family so she had previously divorced him. Both Elizabeth and Jacob died in the mountains before they could be rescued.
Elizabeth had two children from her first marriage: Solomon and William Hook. Solomon (1832 – 1878) did survive the journey and later married Alice Roberts. He died young, though, in his 40s. William died (1834 – 1847) at the age of 12 or 13 as part of the Donner Party tragedy.
Elizabeth and Jacob had five children together. Their two oldest, George (1837 – 1874) and Mary (1839 – 1860) survived the journey although both of them died at young ages. Their younger siblings, Isaac (b. 1841), Samuel (b. 1843), and Lewis (b. 1844) all died sometime over the winter of 1846/1847 as a result of the horrible living conditions.
The story of the Donner Party looms large in the history of our country’s expansion west. It is filled with horrors and terrible difficulties, yet it also demonstrates an incredible resiliency of the survivors and the settlers who followed them.