Most school children have heard the story of the ill-fated Donner Party, the small group of pioneers who became stranded in the Sierra Nevada pass (now termed “Donner Pass”) and resorted to cannibalism to survive. This month’s Archaeology Magazine highlights a new and previously unexplored source on the Donner Party tragedy – the local Native Americans.
Their oral tradition recalls the starving strangers who camped in an area that was unsuitable for that time of year. Taking pity on the pioneers, the northern Washoe attempted to feed them, leaving rabbit meat and wild potatoes near the camps. Another account states that they tried to bring the Donner Party a deer carcass, but were shot at as they approached. Later, some wel mel ti observed the migrants eating human remains. Fearing for their lives, the area’s native inhabitants continued to watch the strangers but avoided further contact. (Archaeology Magazine, Schablitsky).
To learn more about this fascinating story, see the article in Archaeology Magazine: “Letter from California: A New Look at the Donner Party” or Julie Schablitsky’s Donner Party Research.