Only About Half of Donner Party Survived the Journey to California

Kori Williams - Author

Jun. 5 2023, Published 11:29 a.m. ET

James and Margret Reed, members of Donner Party
Source: Wikimedia Commons

James and Margret Reed, members of Donner Party

Back in the 1800s, a group of more than 80 explorers became known as Donner Party. This group was led by brothers George and Jacob Donner and traveled from Illinois to California in hopes of a better life with economic stability.

Unfortunately, the journey was difficult with treacherous terrain, deaths, and even accusations of cannibalism. Despite all of this, there were a handful of people who made it through. Here's what we know about the Donner Party survivors.

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Who were the Donner Party Survivors?

According to Britannica, only about half of Donner Party made it to California. More specifically, 47 members of the party survived. History states that the Breens and the Reeds were the only families to survive intact. Another man named William Eddy lost his wife and kids, although he survived.

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According to SFGate, the Breens, one of the surviving families, consisted of a father named Patrick, his wife, and their seven children. Legends of America states that some of them may have lost some toes because of frostbite.

As for the Reeds, this family may not have survived had it not been for its patriarch James. He arrived in California ahead of his family, but because the rest of his brood was struggling to reach the end, he raised money for people to be rescued.

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In addition, some of the daughters of the Murphy family made it to California. One of the brothers, William, had to turn back after some time when he couldn't handle the snow, and was eventually rescued.

Lewis Keseberg was one of the single men of Donner Party. He survived, but it's rumored to be because he was willing to murder, cannibalize, and steal from people in order to do so.

On top of that, sisters Nancy and Mary Graves also survived. But unfortunately, it's reported that every other member of their family died.

Additionally, William and Amanda McCutchen survived Donner Party but their young daughter Harriett did not. She did make it to California but died at Donner Lake.

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Did the Donner brothers survive?

No, but a number of the members of the Donner family survived. History states that both the brothers, their wives, and four of their children died along the way to California. Legends of America reports that George Donner and his wife Tamzene brought their kids Frances, Georgia, Eliza, and Frances. George's two daughters from a previous marriage, Elitha and Leanna, also joined them.

The Donner Party Memorial Statue at Donner Memorial State Park in California
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Donner Party Memorial Statue at Donner Memorial State Park in California

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As for Jacob Donner, he and his wife Elizabeth brought their kids Isaac, George, Lewis, Mary, and Samuel. She also brought along her two sons from a previous relationship, named William and Solomon Hook.

According to SFGate, kids Georgia, Eliza, and, Frances all survived. The first two were taken in by a Swiss couple. Frances was taken in by the Reeds family and lived with one of her sisters later in life.

Unfortunately, other Donner children also died. Donner Party Diary states that Samuel and Lewis also died during the expedition. Other kids including Solomon, William, and Issac survived the journey, but died in different circumstances soon after it ended.

To memorialize the members of Donner Party, a California state park was named after them called the Donner Memorial State Park. A memorial statue was erected in the park on June 6, 1918.

According to the park's website, the statue features a plaque that says: "Virile to risk and find; kindly withal and a ready help. facing the brunt of fate; indomitable,—unafraid."

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