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Ordeal Of The Donner Party Women
The story of the ill-fated Donner Party is one of heart-wrenching tales of pioneer families that left life long and tear-filled memories for those who survived a terror-filled winter in the California-Nevada Sierra mountains.
Quite some time ago, when compelled to write a tribute to the women of the Donner Party, I chose to stay clear of all the lore that stretched the truth and even at times was nothing but made up stories created by the media and the hysteria of curious thrill seekers over the years. I instead focused on the courage and bravery of the women who did what they had to in order to keep their children alive.
The sufferings of the Donner Party is so much a part of American history that it is at times difficult to distinguish lore from facts. There are few Americans who have not heard about the Donners, the Reeds, the Breens, and so many others who were part of the tragic ordeal.
My patio faces east to where if I were back in the winter of 1846 - 1847, members of the party would be traveling across the land where I sit every morning before sunrise looking in the direction from whence they came.
In those early morning mists that roll over and down the hill towards me, I often see shadowy figures moving westward.
During the research and writing about those remarkable women, I felt that James and Margaret Reed were very near, especially Margaret. There were times when I sensed her very strongly and could hear the rustle of her dress fabric. I could sense her despair yet feel the strength of her energy that helped her to survive the tragic ordeal.
Every year about this time I am reminded of the people who left Independence, Missouri in the spring of 1846. They began with high hopes and joyful excitement, filled with dreams of reaching the "promised land" of California.
By this time of the year (July and August) they were in the local area here where I live, just a short distance away, and camped at a little lake. This was their last camp before heading towards the dangers ahead that would test the physical and spiritual strength of every member of the party. The winter ahead would be one of the harshest, with the deepest snowfall ever recorded in the Sierra mountains.
I live in the pathways of the spirits of the Donner Party. Where they stopped to rest at a small lake before confronting the Sierras is just a short distance from me. In fact, my brother, mother, and I often ride out to the area where the ill-fated party camped. We like to go out there looking for wild horses that gather around the little lake where the Donner party stayed a short while.
My patio faces east to where if I were back in the winter of 1846 - 1847, members of the party would be traveling through where I sit every morning before sunrise looking in the direction from whence they came.
In those early morning mists that roll over and down the hill towards me, I often see shadowy figures moving westward. It is so quiet during that hour before sunrise that I sometime imagine the sounds of the creaking wagons, the plodding of horses, and the whispers of women quieting their children. Is it my imagination, or has time captured remnants of sounds from the hopeful people who pushed onwards to cross the looming mountains before them?
When writing the story of Donner Party Women, I was overcome with with emotion by the strength and sorrows that those women lived with. During the research and writing, I felt that James and Margaret Reed were very near, especially Margaret. There were times when I sensed her very strongly and could hear the rustle of her dress fabric. I could sense her despair yet feel the strength of her energy that helped her to survive the tragic ordeal and finally reach safety with all her children alive.
There were many women who faced the same dangers and fears that Margaret Reed did on that ill-fated trip. Some survived, some did not. Tamsen Donner did not survive. She sent her daughters ahead with a rescue party as she chose to stay behind with her beloved husband who was dying.
This is a story of courage, strengths, and sorrows beyond what most people can imagine -- most of all, it is a story of love, the incredible love of women for their dear ones.
To learn more about the Donner Party:
James and Margaret Reed
Public Domain, Wikipedia
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