It became necessary to place a guard over the
little store of provisions brought to their relief; and they stole and
devoured the rawhide strings from the snow-shoes of those who had come to
deliver them. But some there were whom no temptation could seduce, no
suffering move; who were 'Among the faithless faithful still.'
The brightest examples of these faithful few
were to be found among the devoted women of that doomed band. In the midst
of those terrible scenes when they seemed abandoned by God and man, the
highest traits of the female character were constantly displayed. The
true-hearted, affectionate wife, the loving, tender mother, and the angel
of mercy to her distressed comrades--in all these relations her woman's
heart never failed her.
On the morning of
February 20th John Rhodes, Daniel Tucker, and R. S.Mootrey, three of the
party, went to the camp of
Donner eight miles distant, taking with them a little beef. These
sufferers were found with but one hide remaining. They had determined
that, upon consuming this, they would dig up from the snow the bodies of
those who had died from starvation. Mr.
was helpless. Mrs.
was weak, but in good health, and might have come into the settlements
with Mr. Glover's party, yet she solemnly but calmly declared her
determination to remain with her husband, and perform for him the last sad
offices of affection and humanity. And this she did in full view of the
fact that she must necessarily perish by remaining behind.
The rescuing party, after
consultation, decided that their best course would be to carry the women
and children across the mountains, and then return for the remnant of the
sufferers. Accordingly, leaving in the mountain-camp all the provisions
that they could spare, they commenced their return to the settlement with
twenty-three persons, principally women and children, from whom, with a
kind thoughtfulness, they concealed the horrible story of the journey of
Messrs. Eddy and Foster.
A child of Mrs. Pike, and
one of Mrs. Kiesburg, were carried in the arms of two of the party. Hardly
had they marched two miles through the snow, when two of Mrs. Reed's
children became exhausted--one of them a girl of eight, the other a little
boy of four.
There were but two
alternatives: either to return with them to the mountain-camp, or abandon
them to death. When the mother was informed that it would be necessary to
take them back, a scene of the most thrilling and painful interest ensued.
She was a wife, and her affection for her husband, who was then in the
settlement, dictated that she should go on; but she was also a mother, and
all-powerful maternal love asserted its sway, and she determined to send
forward the two children who could walk, and return herself with the two
youngest, and die with them.
No argument or persuasion
on the part of Mr. Glover could shake her resolution. At last, in response
to his solemn promises that, after reaching Bear River, he would return to
the mountain-camp and bring back her children, after standing in silence
for some moments, she turned from her darling babes and asked Mr. Eddy,
"Are you a mason?" A reply being given in the affirmative, she said, "will
you promise me, upon the word of a mason, that when you arrive at Bear
River Valley, you will return and bring back my children if we do not
meantime meet their father going for them?" "I do thus promise," Mr.
Glover replied. "Then I will go on," said the mother, weeping bitterly as
she pronounced the words. Patty, the little girl, then took her mother by
the hand and said, "Well, mamma, kiss me good-bye! I shall never see you
again. I am willing to go back to our mountain-camp and die, but I cannot
consent to your going back. I shall die willingly if I can believe that
you will see papa. Tell him good-bye for his poor little Patty."
The mother and the
children lingered in a long embrace. As Patty turned from her mother to go
back to the camp, she whispered to Mr. Glover and Mr. Mootrey, who were to
take her, that she was willing to go back and take care of her little
brother, but that she should never see her mother again.
Before reaching the
settlement Mrs. Reed met her husband, who had been driven, for some cause,
from the party several weeks before, and had succeeded in crossing the
mountains in safety.
Messrs. Reed and
McCutchen next headed a relief party, and crossed the mountains with
supplies for the remainder of the emigrants. The Reed children were alive,
but terribly wasted from their dreadful sufferings.
Hunger had driven the
emigrants to revolting extremities. In some of the cabins were found parts
of human bodies trussed and spitted for roasting, and traces of these
horrid feasts were seen about the space in front of the doors where offal
The persons taken under
Mr. Reed's guidance on the return, were Patrick Brinn, wife and five
children; Mrs. Graves, and four children; Mary and Isaac
children of Jacob
Solomon Work, a stepson of Jacob
and two of his children. They reached the foot of the mountain without
much difficulty; but they ascertained that their provisions would not last
them more than a day and a half. Mr. Reed then sent three men forward with
instructions to get supplies at a _cache_ about fifteen miles from the
camp. The party resumed its journey, crossed the Sierra Nevada, and after
traveling about ten miles, encamped on a bleak point, on the north side of
a little valley, near the head of the Yuba River. A storm set in, and
continued for two days and three nights. On the morning of the third day,
the clouds broke away and the weather became more intensely cold than it
had been during the journey. The sufferings of the emigrants in their
bleak camp were too dreadful to be described. There was the greatest
difficulty in keeping up the fire, and during the night the women and
children, who had on very thin clothing, were in great danger of freezing
to death; when the storm passed away, the whole party were very weak,
having passed two days without food. Leaving Patrick Brinn and his family
and the rest of the party who were disabled, Mr. Reed, and his
friends, his two children, Solomon Hook and a Mr. Miller, pressed forward
for supplies, and in five days they succeeded in reaching the settlement.
It was some weeks before
a new relief party organized by Messrs. Eddy and Foster were successful in
reaching the party which Reed had left. A shocking spectacle was presented
to the eyes of the adventurers at the "Starved Camp" as they rightly named
it. Patrick Brinn and his wife were sunning themselves with a look of
vacuity upon their faces. They had eaten the two children of Jacob
Mrs. Graves' body was lying near them with almost all the flesh cut from
the arms and limbs. Her breasts, heart, and liver were then being boiled
over the fire. Her child sat by the side of the mangled remains crying
After being supplied with
food they were left in charge of three men who undertook to conduct them
to the settlement. Meanwhile Messrs. Eddy and Foster went on to the
horrible mountain-camp only to be shocked and revolted by new scenes of
horror. Strewed about the cabins and burrows, in the snow, were the
fragments of human bodies from which the flesh had been stripped; among
the debris of the hideous feasts sat the emaciated survivors looking more
like cannibal-demons than human beings. Kiesburg had dug up the corpse of
one of Mr. Eddy's children and devoured it, even when other food could be
obtained, and the infuriated father could with difficulty be restrained
from killing the monster on the spot. Of the five surviving children at
the mountain-camp, three were those of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob
When the time came for the party of unfortunates to start for the
settlement under the guidance of their generous protectors, Mr.
condition was so feeble that he was unable to accompany them, and though
was capable of traveling, she utterly refused to leave her husband while
he survived. In response to the solicitations of those who urged that her
husband could live but a little longer, and that her presence would not
add one moment to the remaining span of his life, she expressed her solemn
and unalterable purpose which no hardship or danger could change, to
remain and perform for him the last sad offices of duty and affection. At
the same time she manifested the profoundest solicitude for her beloved
children, and implored Mr. Eddy to save them, promising all that she
possessed if he would convey them in safety to the settlement. He pledged
himself to carry out her wishes without recompense, or perish in the
No provisions remained to
supply the needs of these unhappy beings. At the end of two hours Mr. Eddy
that a terrible necessity constrained him to depart. It was certain that
would never rise from the wretched couch on which he lay, worn out with
toil and wasted by famine. It was almost equally certain that unless Mrs.
then abandoned her unfortunate partner and accompanied Mr. Eddy and his
party to the settlement, she would die of wasting famine or perish
violently at the hands of some lurking cannibal. By accompanying her
children she could minister to their wants and perhaps be the means of
saving their lives. The all-powerful maternal instinct combined with the
love of life, urged her to fly with her children from the scene of so many
horrors and dangers. Well might her reason have questioned her, "Why stay
and meet inevitable death since you cannot save your husband from the
grave which yawns to receive him? and when your presence, your converse
and hands can only beguile the few remaining hours of his existence?" Time
passed. By no entreaties could she enlarge the hour of departure which had
now arrived. Nor did she seek to and thus endanger the lives of those who
were hastening to depart. She must decide the dread question that moment.
Rarely in the long
suffering record of woman, has she been placed in circumstances of such
peculiar trial, but the love of life, the instinct of self-preservation,
and even maternal affection, could not triumph over her affection as a
wife. Her husband begged her to save her life and leave him to die alone,
assuring her that she could be of no service to him, as he could not
probably survive under any circumstances until the next morning; with
streaming eyes she bent over him, kissed his pale, emaciated, haggard, and
even then, death-stricken cheek, and said:
"No! no! dear husband, I
will remain with you, and here perish rather than leave you to die alone,
with no one to soothe your dying sorrows, and close your eyes when dead.
Entreat me not to leave you. Life, accompanied with the reflection that I
had thus left you, would possess for me more than the bitterness of death;
and death would be sweet with the thought in my last moments, that I had
assuaged one pang of yours in your passage into eternity No! no! no!" She
repeated, sobbing convulsively.
The parting interview
between the parents and the children is represented to have been one that
can never be forgotten as long as reason remains or the memory performs
its functions. In the dying father the fountain of tears was dried up; but
the agony on his death-stricken face and the feeble pressure of his hand
on the brow of each little one as it bade him adieu for ever, told the
story of his last great sorrow. As Mrs.
clasped her children to her heart in a parting embrace, she turned to Mr.
Eddy with streaming eyes and sobbed her last words, "O, save, save, my
This closing scene in the
sad and eventful careers of those unfortunate emigrants was the crowning
act in a long and terrible drama which illustrated, under many conditions
of toil, hardship, danger, despair, and death, the courage, fortitude,
patience, love, and devotion of woman.
of America, updated July, 2015.