A party of 15 snowshoers that attempted to make its way through the snow-choked passes in December to get help suffered horribly about half of them survived to get aid from Sutter's Fort. Many of the emigrants died during the winter. Some surviving members of the Donner Party were reputedly driven to cannibalism, but despite archaeological examinations of the remains, cannibalism has never been definitively proved. Finally, expeditions from the Sacramento valley made their way through the snowdrifts to rescue the hunger-maddened migrants. Only about half of the original party of 81 reached California. The survivors later disagreed violently as to the details of (and particularly the blame for) the disaster.
See C. F. McGlashan, History of the Donner Party (1879, repr. 1966) G. R. Stewart, Ordeal by Hunger (1936, new ed. 1960) E. Rarick, Desperate Passage (2008).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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