The Harrowing Rescue Missions to Save the Donner Party Survivors

On October 20, 1846, an unusually early and heavy snowstorm dumped foot after foot of cement-like snow on the Sierra Nevada mountains, trapping 81 members of the ill-fated Donner Party, more than half of whom were children . Their five-month ordeal is one of the most infamous in American history, haunted by the fact that about half of the 45 survivors resorted to cannibalism when all other food sources, including boiled bark and leather, have been exhausted.

But less well known is the story of how rescuers bravely marched through the “death camps” repeatedly to lead (and in some cases transport) starving Donner Party survivors to safety. Among those rescuers was James Reed, who had been kicked out of the Donner Party for killing a man earlier on the trek, but without whom they would all have perished on the frozen mountain.

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