Document Study: Donner Party
1. The Donner Party was made up of the Donner brothers, George and Jacob, along with their wives and children, all adding up to 8 people, they were the main members. The families set off with another friend, John Denton, six wagons and two teamsters, Noah James and Samuel Shoemaker. The Reeds were another key family and they consisted of James Reed, his wife Margaret and their three children. Also travelling with them were: Virginia Reed (Margaret’s daughter from a previous marriage), Margaret’s mother and 5 employees: A servant, Eliza Williams, her half-brother, Baylis, and three teamsters. Hiram Miller also travelled with the Reeds as an employee. The Breen’s (9 in total), Eddy’s (4 in total), Murphy’s (13 in total), the Keseberg’s and Hardkoop (6 in total), the Wolfinger’s, Spitzer and Reinhardt (4 in total), McCutchen’s (3 in total), Graves’ (12 in total), Stanton, Halloran, Antonio and Trudeau were the others who made up the party.
2. Virginia Elizabeth Reed was Margaret Reeds daughter from a previous marriage. She was 13 years of age when she left with the Donner Party. She wasn’t formally adopted by James Reed, but he was her legal guardian and treated her like one of his own children. Her writings have become the most invaluable source of information regarding the Donner Party’s experiences on their trek.
3. In her letters, with the innocent and naïve perspective of a child, Virginia Reed writes about her experiences as a member of the fateful Donner Party. The letters are addressed to her cousin, Mary (“My dear cousin Mary) and all state “I take this opportunity to write to you now, that we are all well at present”. She explains and illustrates to her cousin the trouble that her family went through on their journey to California. We see that, until they came to the “Big Sandy”, they did not have any troubles but when they crossed the desert, some of their best oxen were lost, their “best yoke of oxen’s” and are...
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