History of the Donner Party

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This party of fifteen had taken provisions to last only six days. At the
end of this time they hoped to reach Bear Valley, so they said, but it
is more than probable they dared not take more food from their dear ones
at the cabins. Six days' rations! This means enough of the poor,
shriveled beef to allow each person, three times a day, a piece the size
of one's two fingers. With a little coffee and a little loaf sugar, this
was all. They had matches, Foster's gun, a hatchet, and each a thin
blanket. With this outfit they started to cross the Sierra. No person,
unaccustomed to snow-shoes, can form an idea of the difficulty which is
experienced during one's first attempt to walk with them. Their shoes
would sink deep into the loose, light snow, and it was with great effort
they made any progress. They had been at Donner Lake from forty-two to
forty-six days, and on this first night of their journey had left it
four miles behind them. After a dreadful day's work they encamped, in
full sight of the lake and of the cabins. This was harder for the aching
hearts of the mothers than even the terrible parting from their little
ones. To see the smoke of the cabins, to awake from their troubled
dreams, thinking they heard the cry of their starving babes, to stifle
the maternal yearnings which prompted them to turn back and perish with
their darlings clasped to their breasts, were trials almost unbearable.
The next day they traveled six miles. They crossed the summit, and the
camps were no longer visible. They were in the solemn fastnesses of the
snow-mantled Sierra. Lonely, desolate, forsaken apparently by God and
man, their situation was painfully, distressingly terrible. The snow
was, wrapped about cliff and forest and gorge. It varied in depth from
twelve to sixty feet.

Mrs. M. A. Clarke (Mary Graves), now of White River, Tulare County,
speaking of this second day, says: "We had a very slavish day's travel,
climbing the divide. Nothing of interest occurred until reaching the
summit. The scenery was too grand for me to pass without notice, the
changes being so great; walking now on loose snow, and now stepping on a
hard, slick rock a number of hundred yards in length. Being a little in
the rear of the party, I had a chance to observe the company ahead,
trudging along with packs on their. backs. It reminded me of some
Norwegian fur company among the icebergs. My shoes were ox-bows, split
in two, and rawhide strings woven in, something in form of the
old-fashioned, split-bottomed chairs. Our clothes were of the bloomer
costume, and generally were made of flannel. Well do I remember a remark
one of the company made here, that we were about as near heaven as we
could get. We camped a little on the west side of the summit the second

Here they gathered a few boughs, kindled a fire upon the surface of the
snow, boiled their coffee, and ate their pitiful allowance of beef; then
wrapping their toil-worn bodies in their blankets, lay down upon the
snow. As W. C. Graves remarks, it was a bed that was soft, and white,
and beautiful, and yet it was a terrible bed - a bed of death. The third
day they walked five miles. Starting almost at dawn, they struggled
wearily through the deep drifts, and when the night shadows crept over
crag and pine and mountain vale, they were but five miles on their
journey. They did not speak during the day, except when speech was
absolutely necessary. All traveled silently, and with downcast eyes. The
task was beginning to tell upon the frames of even the strongest and
most resolute. The hunger that continually gnawed at their vitals, the
excessive labor of moving the heavy, clumsy snow-shoes through the soft,
yielding snow, was too much for human endurance. They could no longer
keep together and aid each other with words of hope. They struggled
along, sometimes at great distances apart. The fatigue and dazzling
sunlight rendered some of them snowblind. One of these was the
noble-hearted Stanton. On this third day he was too blind and weak to
keep up with the rest, and staggered into the camp long after the others
had finished their pitiful supper. Poor, brave, generous Stanton! He
said little, but in his inner heart he knew that the end of his journey
was almost at hand.

Who was this heroic being who left the beautiful valleys of the
Sacramento to die for strangers? See him wearily toiling onward during
the long hours of the fourth day. The agony and blindness of his eyes
wring no cry from his lips, no murmur, no word of complaint. With
patient courage and heroic fortitude he strives to keep pace with his
companions, but finds it impossible. Early in the morning he drops to
the rear, and is soon lost to sight. At night he drags his weary limbs
into camp long after his comrades are sleeping 'neath the silent stars.
It must be remembered that they had been accustomed to short allowance
of food for months, while he had been used to having an abundance. Their
bodies had been schooled to endure famine, privations, and long, weary
walks. For many days before reaching the mountains, they had been used
to walking every day, in order to lighten the burdens of the perishing
oxen. Fatigues which exhausted them crushed Stanton. The weather was
clear and pleasant, but the glare of the sun during the day had been
like molten fire to their aching eyes.

On the morning of the fifth day Stanton was sitting smoking by the
smoldering fire when the company resumed its journey. Mary Graves, who
had a tender heart for the suffering of others, went kindly up to him,
and asked him if he were coming. "Yes," he replied, "I am coming soon."
Was he answering her, or the unseen spirits that even then were
beckoning him to the unknown world? "Yes, I am coming soon!" These were
his last words. His companions were too near death's door to return when
they found he came not, and so he perished. He had begged them piteously
to lead him, during the first days of his blindness, but seeming to
realize that they were unable to render assistance, he ceased to
importune, and heroically met his fate. He did not blame his comrades.
They were weak, exhausted, and ready to die of starvation. With food
nearly gone, strength failing, hope lost, and nothing left but the last,
blind, clinging instinct of life, it was impossible that the perishing
company should have aided the perishing Stanton. He was a hero of the
highest, noblest, grandest stamp. No words can ever express a fitting
tribute to his memory. He gave his life for strangers who had not the
slightest claim to the sacrifice. He left the valleys where friends,
happiness, and abundance prevailed, to perish amidst chilling
snow-drifts - famished and abandoned. The act of returning to save the
starving emigrants is as full of heroic grandeur as his death is replete
with mournful desolation.

In May, 1847, W. C. Graves, in company with a relief party, found the
remains of C. T. Stanton near the spot where he had been left by his
companions. The wild animals had partially devoured his body, but the
remains were easily identified by means of his clothing and pistols.

The following sketch of this hero is kindly furnished by his brother,
Sidney Stanton, of Cazenovia, New York:

"Charles Tyler Stanton was born at Pompey, Onondaga County, New York,
March 11, 1811. He was five feet five inches in height. He had brown
eyes and brown hair. He possessed a robust constitution, and although
rather slender during his youth, at the age of fifteen he became strong
and hearty, and could endure as great hardships as any of his brothers.
He had five brothers and four sisters, and was the seventh child. His
grandparents, on his father's side, were well off at the close of the
revolutionary war, but sold their large farms, and took Continental
money in payment. Soon afterward this money became worthless, and they
lost all. They were at the time living in Berkshire, Massachusetts, but
soon after removed west to the county where C. T. Stanton was born.
There were in his father's family fourteen children - seven sons and
seven daughters."

In his younger days Stanton was engaged as a clerk in a store. He was
honest, industrious, and greatly beloved by those with whom he came in
contact. His early education was limited, but during his employment as
clerk he used every possible endeavor to improve his mind. During his
journey across the plains, he was regarded as somewhat of a savant, on
account of his knowledge of botany, geology, and other branches of
natural science. His disposition was generous to a fault. He never was
happier than when bestowing assistance upon needy friends. His widowed
mother, for whom he entertained the most devoted affection, was kindly
cared for by him until her death in 1835. After this sad event he
removed to Chicago. At Chicago he made money rapidly for a time, and his
hand was ever ready to give aid to those about him. Charity and heroic
self-sacrifice appear to have been his predominant characteristics. They
stand out in bold relief, not only in his early history, but during his
connection with the Donner Party. While in the mountains he had no money
to give, but instead he gave his strength, his energy, his love, his
all, his very life, for his companions.

That he had a premonition of the gloomy fate which overtook him in the
Sierra, or at least that he fully realized the perils to which he was
exposing his life, is indicated by the following incident: When he set
out from Sutter's Fort to return to the Donner train with provisions, he
left a vest with Captain Sutter. In one of the pockets of this vest was
subsequently found a package directed to the Captain with the following
memorandum: "Captain Sutter will send the within, in the event of my
death, to Sidney Stanton, Syracuse, New York." The package contained a
diamond breastpin. Mr. Sidney Stanton writes as follows concerning this

"I will give you a short history or account of the pin which was left
for me at Sutter's Fort, which Mr. McKinstry forwarded to me. This was
an event so peculiar at the time. He visited me here at Syracuse, while
he was prospering in Chicago. He was on his way to New York, and wanted
a sum of money, which I advanced. Before leaving he fastened this pin on
the dress of my wife, remarking that she must consider it as a present
from him. Nothing more was thought of this event until he again wanted
money. Misfortune had overtaken him, and this event gave him much pain,
not so much on his own account as because he could not relieve the
distress of dear friends when asked for aid. I sent him a little more
money; I had not much to spare, and in talking the matter over with my
wife, she asked, 'Why not send him the pin? It is valuable, and in time
of need he might dispose of it for his comfort.' In saying this she took
the ground that it was left with her as a pledge, not as a gift. I
therefore handed it to my sister to send to him for this purpose. But it
appears by his keeping it and sending it back in the way he did, that he
did consider it a gift, and hence he would not and did not dispose of it
for necessary things for his own comfort. This pin was the only thing of
value which he had at the time of his death."

Stanton was an excellent writer. His descriptions of his travels from
Chicago to the South would make a good-sized and a very interesting
book. His last composition is given below. It is an appropriate ending
to this brief outline of the history of one who should be regarded as
one of the noblest of California's pioneer heroes:

"To My Mother In Heaven."

"Oh, how that word my soul inspires
With holy, fond, and pure desires!
Maternal love, how bright the flame!
For wealth of worlds I'd not profane
Nor idly breathe thy sacred name,
My mother."

"Thy sainted spirit dwells on high.
How oft I weep, how oft I sigh
Whene'er I think of bygone time,
Thy smile of love, which once was mine,
That look so heavenly and divine,
My mother."

"Thy warning voice in prayers of love,
Ascending to the throne above
With tones of eloquence so rife,
Hath turned my thoughts from wordly strife,
And cheered me through my wayward life,
My mother."

"When death shall close my sad career,
And I before my God appear
There to receive His last decree
My only prayer there will be
Forever to remain with thee,
My mother."

Chapter VII.

A Wife's Devotion
The Smoky Gorge
Caught in a Storm
Casting Lots to See Who should Die
A Hidden River
The Delirium of Starvation
Franklin Ward Graves
His Dying Advice
A Frontiersman's Plan
The Camp of Death
A Dread Resort
A Sister's Agony
The Indians Refuse to Eat
Lewis and Salvador Flee for Their Lives
Killing a Deer
Tracks Marked by Blood
Nine Days without Food.

Let no one censure Stanton's companions for abandoning their brave
comrade. In less than twenty-four hours all were without food, unless,
indeed, it was Mr. Eddy, who, in his narration published by Judge
Thornton, states that on the day of Stanton's death he found half a
pound of bear's meat which had been secreted in a little bag by his
wife. Attached to this meat was a paper, upon which his wife had written
in pencil a note signed, "Your own dear Eleanor." Mr. Eddy had not
discovered this meat until the sorest hour of need, and the hope
expressed in Mrs. Eddy's note, that it would be the means of saving his
life, was literally fulfilled. There is something extremely touching in
the thought that this devoted wife, who, as will presently be seen, was
starving to death in the cabins, saved her husband's life by
clandestinely concealing about his person a portion of the food which
should have sustained herself and her infant children.

In the account given by Mary Graves, is mentioned the following incident
in the fourth day's travel: "Observing by the way a deep gorge at the
right, having the appearance of being full of smoke, I wanted very much
to go to it, but the Indians said no, that was not the way. I prevailed
on the men to fire the gun, but there was no answer. Every time we
neared the gorge I would halloo at the top of my voice, but we received
no answer."

On this day the horror of the situation was increased by the
commencement of a snow-storm. As the flakes fell thick and fast, the
party sat down in the snow utterly discouraged and heartsick.

Mary Graves says: "What to do we did not know. We held a consultation,
whether to go ahead without provisions, or go back to the cabins, where
we must undoubtedly starve. Some of those who had children and families
wished to go back, but the two Indians said they would go on to Captain
Sutter's. I told them I would go too, for to go back and hear the cries
of hunger from my little brothers and sisters was more than I could
stand. I would go as far as I could, let the consequences be what they

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