What the Donner Party Ate in Final Days






They had endured months of cold and hunger. The Donner-Reed party had set out for California in 1846 in a journey that normally took four to six months. But after trying a new route, called Hastings Cutoff, rugged terrain left the group snowbound in the Sierra Nevada.

Now a new book analyzing one of the most spectacular tragedies in American history reveals what the 81 pioneers ate before resorting to eating each other in a desperate attempt to survive. On the menu: family pets, bones, twigs, a concoction described as "glue," strings and, eventually, human remains.

The book, "An Archaeology of Desperation: Exploring the Donner Party's Alder Creek Camp," centers on recent archaeological investigations at that campsite near Truckee, Calif., where one quarter of the 81 emigrants spent their nightmarish winter of 1846-47.

No human bone was identified in the fragments analyzed from the extensive bone sample at Alder Creek, but the researchers conclude that "some Donner Party members participated in cannibalism" during the last week of February 1847....



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