Photo © Courtesy of Truckee Chamber of Commerce
The Pioneer Monument located in Donner Memorial State Park in Truckee, California, is dedicated to the ill-fated Donner Party. The story of the Donner Party is often thought of as the most famous tragedy in the history of the westward migration because of the incredible hardships these people faced. Almost ninety wagon train emigrants trying to get to California were unable to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains before winter, and almost one-half starved to death. Perhaps because they were ordinary people, farmers, merchants, parents, and children, their story captures the imagination of everyone who hear their tragic story.
In the winter of 1846-1847 the Donner Party families were trapped by the weather and deep snow in what is now the Donner Campsite at Alder Creek, while trying to pass over the Sierra Nevada mountains (now Donner Pass).
The journey west usually took between four and six months, but the Donner Party was slowed by following a new route called the Hastings Cutoff, which crossed Utah's Wasatch Mountains and Great Salt Lake Desert.
By the beginning of November 1846 the emigrants had reached the Sierra Nevada, where they became trapped by an early, heavy snowfall near Donner Lake. Their food supplies ran low, and in mid-December some of the group set out on foot to obtain help. Some reports say that some of the emigrants resorted to cannibalism to survive. Rescuers from California attempted to reach the emigrants, but the first relief party did not arrive until the middle of February 1847, almost four months after the wagon train became trapped. Of the 87 members of the party, 48 survived to reach California.
The Pioneer Monument pays a tribute to all of the emigrants who survived and lost their lives in the winter of 1846-47 and is located where some of the families had their cabins. This tragic true story is a part of the Truckee community and is remembered by everyone who visits this historical site.
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