James Reed

James Reed

James Reed was born in County Aramagh, Ireland, on 14th November, 1800. As a young man he emigrated to the United States and settled in Virginia. Later he moved to Springfield where be became involved in the furniture trade. Reed established his own company and by the time he married Margaret Backenstoe in 1835 he was a faily wealthy man.

Reed decided to move to California. In April, 1846 Reed, his wife, four children and his mother-in-law, joined with a party led by George Donner. The Reed-Donner wagon train, now made up of twenty vehicles and hundred people, arrived in Independence, Missouri, in May, 1846. Later that month, the party left for Sutter's Fort. Later that month, James Reed's mother-in-law died next to the Blue River in Kansas. The Donner-Reed party followed the Oregon Trail until they reached Fort Bridger on 28th July.

At the fort the party met Lansford Hastings. He was busy attempting to persuade Oregon-bound emigrants to go to California by way of what became known as the Hastings Cutoff. Hastings claimed that his route would remove 300 miles from the distance to Sutter's Fort. His cut-off involved crossing the Wasatch Mountains, round the Great Salt Lake to the south, then due west to the Humboldt River in Nevada, before returning to the main trail from Fort Hall.

Hastings told people that the desert was only 40 miles across and that they would find water after 24 hours. It was in fact 82 miles wide and water was only to be found after 48 hours of travelling. Hastings told Reed and George Donner that three wagon trains had already opted for this route.

The Donner Party had made poor time so far and was already some way behind most of the other wagon trains travelling from Independence to Sutter's Fort. They knew they had to cross the Sierra Nevada before the snowfalls that would their path to Sutter's Fort. This usually happened in early November. Although they were on schedule to reach the mountains by late summer they were worried about other delays that could mean being blocked by the winter weather. They therefore made the decision to take the advice of Lansford Hastings and take the proposed short-cut.

On 31st July the Donner Party left Fort Bridger. They did not come out of the Echo Canyon until the 6th August. What they expected to take them four days had actually taken them seven days. They found a letter from Lansford Hastings advising them to camp at the Weber River and to send a man ahead to find him so he could show them a new route to California. Reed and Charles T. Stanton went off in pursuit of Hastings. When they found him he refused the offer of becoming the personal guide to the Donner wagon train. Instead he drew a rough map of the new route.

The Donner Party entered the Wasatch Mountains on 12th August. They soon discovered they had to chop their way through aspen, cottonwood and tangled undergrowth to make a route for the wagons. Over the next few days they had to dislodge boulders and build causeways across swamps in order to reach the valley of the Great Salt Lake. The twenty-three wagons of the Donner Party was now joined by the Graves family and their three wagons. As Virginia Reed later recorded the new group consisted "of Franklin Graves, his wife and eight children, his son-in-law Jay Fosdick, and a young man by the name of John Snyder."

It was now the 27th August and they still had to cross the Salt Desert. Members of the party now realised they were in serious trouble and now had only a small chance of crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains before the winter snows blocked their route. The faster wagons pushed on ahead and the slow, heavily laden wagons of the Reeds and Donners were by now falling further and further behind.

The Donner Party reached Pilot Peak on 8th September. To enable them to keep up, the Reeds and Donners had to abandon some of the heavy goods they were carrying. They also abandoned three wagons and increased the number of oxen pulling the remaining wagons. Members of the party were also having doubts about whether they had enough food to last them before they reached California. It was therefore decided to send two men, Charles T. Stanton and William McCutcheon ahead to Sutter's Fort in order to purchase provisions for the wagon train.

The Donner Party now started out towards the Humboldt River. On the 30th September they reached the main trail from Fort Hall to Sutter's Fort. However, by this time the rest of the 1846 wagon trains had long gone and were already in California. The Donner Party now had trouble from the Paiute. They stole two oxen and two horses. They also fired several arrows at the wagon train and wounded some of the animals.

On 5th October, 1846, another disaster struck the Donner Party. Reed and John Snyder had an argument about one of the wagons. Snyder lost his temper and hit him over the head with a bullwhip. Reed drew his knife and stuck it into Snyder's body. Snyder mumbled: "Uncle Patrick, I am dead." His prediction was correct and Lewis Keseberg immediately began to set up a wagon tongue as a makeshift gallows. William Eddy used his gun to insist that Reed would not be lynched. The others agreed and after much discussion it was decided that Reed should be banished from the wagon train. He was forced to make his way to Sutter's Fort on horseback without weapons. To many in the party this was equivalent to sentencing Reed to death.

Soon afterwards Keseberg ejected one of his employees, Hardkoop, from his wagon. He was never seen again and it is not known whether he died of starvation or was killed by local Native American tribes. This was followed by Joseph Reinhardt, and Augustus Spitzer who robbed and murdered a man called Wolfinger.

The Donner Party now had to cross a 40 mile desert. Over the next three days the wagon train suffered repeated attacks from groups of warriors. During this time they stole 18 oxen, killed another 21 and wounded many others. Since most of their animals were now dead or stolen, the party was forced to abandon their wagons. The wagon train reached the Truckee Lake at the end of October.

On 19th October Charles T. Stanton arrived back from Sutter's Fort with seven mules loaded with food. William McCutcheon had been taken ill and had been forced to stay at the fort. However, Stanton had brought back with him two Indian guides to help them get to California. Stanton also brought news that James Reed had successfully reached Sutter's Fort. On 20th October William Foster killed his brother-in-law in a shooting accident.

The Donner Party now began its attempt to cross the the Sierra Nevada mountains. A few snow flurries made them realise they were in a desperate race for time. In the distance they could see that the peaks were covered in snow. On 25th October a Paiute warrior opened fire on what was left of the wagon train. He hit nineteen oxen before being killed by William Eddy.

The migrants ploughed on but when they got to within three miles of the summit they found their way blocked by five-foot snowdrifts. They were now forced to turn back and seek cover in a cabin they had passed at the foot of the mountain. The surviving members of the wagon train now set about constructing a camp next to what later became known as Donner Lake. Patrick Dolan, Patrick Breen and his family moved into the cabin whereas Lewis Keseberg built a lean-to against one of the walls. William Eddy and William Foster built a log cabin. So also did Charles T. Stanton which was to house the Graves family and Margaret Reed and her children. Donner constructed a primitive shelter for his family.

Reed managed to get through to Sutter's Fort and waited patiently for the arrival of his family. When this did not happen he organized a relief party with William McCutcheon. However, loaded down with provisions, he could not get past the head of Bear Valley and was forced to return to Sutter's Fort.

The surviving members of the wagon train now set about constructing a camp next to what later became known as Donner Lake. Patrick Dolan, Patrick Breen and his family moved into the cabin whereas Lewis Keseberg built a lean-to against one of the walls. William Eddy, William Foster and William Pike built a log cabin. So also did Charles T. Stanton which was to house the Graves family and Margaret Reed and her children. Donner constructed a primitive shelter for his family.

The Donner Party was desperately short of food. The remaining animals were killed and eaten. Attempts to catch fish in the river was unsuccessful. Some of the men went hunting but during the next two weeks they were only able to kill one bear, a coyote, an owl and a grey squirrel. It was clear that if they stayed in the camp they would all die of starvation and on 12th November thirteen men and two women made another attempt to get to Sutter's Fort but found their way blocked by a 10 foot snow drift.

The party rested for a few days and then a party led by William Eddy and Charles T. Stanton made another attempt to reach safety. On 21st November they returned to camp defeated. Soon afterwards Baylis Williams died. This motivated the stronger members of the party to make another attempt to cross the mountains.

On 16th December fifteen members of the party left the camp and headed for the summit. This became known as the Forlorn Hope group. Aided by better weather, this time they managed to cross the mountain pass. On 20th December they had reached a place called Yuba Bottoms. The following morning Stanton was not strong enough to leave the camp. The rest were forced to leave him to die.

William Eddy now took responsibility for leading the group to safety. On 24th December they were out of food and too weak to go on. The group came to the decision that the only way they could survive was to resort to cannibalism. That night Billy Graves and a Mexican called Antoine died. The following day Patrick Dolan also passed away and on 26th December they began cooking Dolan's arms and legs. At first only three members of the party, Eddy and the two Indian guides, refused to eat the meat. However, over the next two days they succumbed to temptation and resorted to cannibalism. They now had a fourth body to consume as Lemeul Murphy died that night.

On 30th December the party, much stronger after their cannibal feast, set off again. However, the weather deteriorated and they were once again forced to halt and make a camp. Out of food, the group began talking about murdering Luis and Salvador, the two Indian guides. Eddy argued against this idea and he secretly told Luis and Salvador that they were likely to be murdered if they remained. That night, while the others slept, they left the camp.

William Eddy and Mary Graves now volunteered to go out hunting. Eddy managed to kill a deer but by the time they got back to the camp Jay Fosdick had died. This supplied more meat for the six remaining members of the group.

The next day the party found the dying bodies of Luis and Salvador. Eddy was unable to stop William Foster killing the two men. This created conflict between the two men and it was decided that they could no longer work together. The group now split up: Foster, his wife and sister, Harriet Pike made up one party whereas Eddy travelled with Mary Graves, Sarah Fosdick and Amanda McCutcheon.

On 12th January, Eddy's group reached a Paiute village. They took pity on the travellers and gave them a acorn meal. This gave them the strength to move on and five days later found another village. This time they were given a meal of pine nuts. Eddy then paid a warrior a pouch of tobacco to act as a guide to Paiute. This he agreed to do and after a further six mile walker, Eddy reached his destination. James Reed quickly organized a relief party to go back and find the rest of the Forlorn Hope group.

Johann Sutter and Captain Edward Kern, the commanding officer at Sutter's Fort, offered to pay $3 a day for anyone willing to form a relief party to rescue those still camped at Donner Lake. Only seven men agreed to accept this dangerous task and on 31st January the small team led by Daniel Tucker left the fort.

James Reed successfully brought back William Foster, Sarah Foster, Harriet Pike, Mary Graves, Sarah Fosdick and Amanda McCutcheon. He now began preparing a second relief party. He organized a public meeting where he raised $1,300. He used this money to buy supplies and to hire six more men. William Eddy also agreed to guide the team and after a long struggle they reached Donner Lake on 27th February. Reed was able to rescue his wife and his last two remaining children.

Later that year Reed purchased land near San Jose. He also became involved in the Californian Gold Rush. Reed invested his profits in property in San Francisco.

One of his daughters, Virginia Reed, who was only twelve years old in 1846, wrote one of the most important accounts of the Donner Party wagon train. Her account, Across the Plains in the Donner Party, was published in 1891.

James Reed died on 24th July, 1874.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Virginia Reed, Across the Plains in the Donner Party (1891)

Never can I forget the morning when we bade farewell to kindred and friends. The Donners were there, having driven in the evening before with their families, so that we might get an early start. Grandma Keyes was carried out of the house and placed in the wagon on a large feather bed, propped up with pillows. Her sons implored her to remain and end her days with them, but she could not be separated from her only daughter. We were surrounded by loved ones, and there stood all my little schoolmates who had come to kiss me good-by. My father with tears in his eyes tried to smile as one friend after another grasped his hand in a last farewell. Mama was overcome with grief. At last the drivers cracked their whips, the oxen moved slowly forward and the long journey had begun... Many friends camped with us the first night out and my uncles traveled on for several days before bidding us a final farewell. It seemed to be strange to be riding in ox-teams, and we children were afraid of the oxen, thinking they could go wherever they pleased as they had no bridles.

(2) Virginia Reed, Across the Plains in the Donner Party (1891)

Nothing of much interest happened until we reached what is now Kansas. The first Indians we met were the Caws, who kept the ferry, and had to take us over the Caw River. I watched them closely, hardly daring to draw my breath, and feeling sure they would sink the boat in the middle of the stream, and was very thankful when I found they were not like Grandma's Indians.

(3) Virginia Reed, Across the Plains in the Donner Party (1891)

The road at first was rough and led through a timbered country, but after striking the great valley of the Platte the road was good and the country beautiful. Stretching out before us as far as the eye could reach was a valley as green as emerald, dotted here and there with flowers of every imaginable color, and through this valley flowed the grand old Platte, a wide, rapid, shallow stream... Exercise in the open air under bright skies, and freedom from peril, combined to make this part of our journey an ideal pleasure trip. How I enjoyed riding my pony, galloping over the plain, gathering wild flowers! At night the young folks would gather about the camp fire chatting merrily, and often a song would be heard, or some clever dancer would give us a barn-door jig on the hind gate of a wagon.

(4) James Reed, letter to James Keynes (16th June, 1846)

My first appearance on the wilds of the Nebraska as a hunter, was on the 12th (June) when I returned to camp with a splendid two year old elk, the first only only one killed by the caravan as yet. I picked the elk I killed, out of eight of the largest I ever beheld, and I do really believe there was one in the gang as large as the horse I rode.

We have had two Buffalo killed. The men that killed them are considered the best buffalo hunters on the road - perfect "stars." Knowing that Glaucus could beat any horse on the Nebraska, I came to the conclusion that as far as buffalo killing was concerned, I could beat them. Accordingly, yesterday I thought to try my luck. The old buffalo hunters and as many others as they would permit to be in their company, having left the camp for a hunt, Hiram Miller, myself and two others, after due preparation, took up the line of march. Before we left, every thing in camp was talking about Mr so and so, had gone hunting, and we would have some choice buffalo meat. No one though or spoke of the two Sucker hunters, and none but the two asked to go with us... we saw a large herd.... On we went towards them as coolly and calmly as the nature of the case would permit. And now, as perfectly green as I was I had to compete with old experienced hunters, and remove the stars from their brows; which was my greatest ambition, and in order too, that they might see that a Sucker had the best horse in the company, and the best and most daring horseman in the caravan. Closing upon a gang of ten or twelve bulls, the word was given, and I was soon in their midst... At last I loaded, and soon the chase ended and I had two dead and a third mortally wounded and dying... A short distance off we saw another drove of calves. Again the chase was renewed, and soon I laid out another fine calf upon the plains.

(5) Virginia Reed, Across the Plains in the Donner Party (1891)

Antelope and buffalo steaks were the main article on our bill-of-fare for weeks, and no tonic was needed to give zest for the food; our appetites were a marvel. Eliza soon discovered that cooking over a camp fire was far different from cooking on a stove or range, but all hands assisted her. I remember that she had the cream all ready for the churn as we drove into the South Fork of the Platte, and while we were fording the grand old stream she wen on with her work, and made several pounds of butter. We found no trouble in crossing the Platte, the only danger being quicksand. The stream being wide, we had to stop the wagon now and then to give our oxen a few moments' rest.

(6) Virginia Reed, Across the Plains in the Donner Party (1891)

At Fort Laramie was a party of Sioux, who were on the war path going to fight the Crows or Blackfeet. The Sioux are fine looking Indians and I was not in the least afraid of them. They fell in love with my pony and set about bargaining to buy him. They brought buffalo robes and beautifully tanned buckskin, pretty beaded moccasins, and ropes made of grass, and placing these articles in a heap alongside several of their ponies, they made my father understand by signs that they would give them all for Billy and his rider. Papa smiled and shook his head; then the number of ponies was increased and, as a last tempting inducement, they brought an old coat, that had been worn by some poor soldier, thinking my father could not withstand the brass buttons!

On the sixth of July we were again on the march. The Sioux were several days in passing our caravan, not on account of the length of our train, but because there were so many Sioux. Owing to the fact that our wagons were strung so far apart, they could have massacred our whole party without much loss to themselves. Some of our company became alarmed, and the rifles were cleaned out and loaded, to let the warriors see that we were prepared to fight; but the Sioux never showed any inclination to disturb us... their desire to possess my pony was so strong that at last I had to ride in the wagon, and let one of the drivers take charge of Billy. This I did not like, and in order to see how far back the line of warriors extended, I picked up a large field-glass which hung on a rack, and as I pulled it out with a click, the warriors jumped back, wheeled their ponies and scattered. This pleased me greatly, and I told my mother I could fight the whole Sioux tribe with a spyglass,

(7) Virginia Reed, letter to Mary Keynes (12th July, 1846)

We did not see no Indians from the time we left the cow village till we come to Fort Laramie. The Sioux Indians are going to war with the Crows and we have to pass through their fighting grounds. The Sioux Indians are the prettiest Indians there is. Pa goes buffalo hunting most every day and kills 2 or 3 buffalo every day. Pa shot an elk some of our company saw a grisly bear... We have hard from uncle (Robert Keyes) several times since he went to California and now is gone to Oregon.

(8) James Reed, letter to James Keynes from Fort Bridger (31st July, 1846)

We have arrived here safe with the loss of two yoke of my best oxen. They were poisoned by drinking water in a little creek called Dry Sandy, situated between the Green Spring in the Pass of the Mountains, and Little Sandy. The water was standing in puddles. Jacob Donner also lost two yoke, and George Donner a yoke and half, all supposed from the same cause.

I have replenished my stock by purchasing from Messrs. Vasques & Bridger, two very excellent and accommodating gentlemen, who are the proprietors of this trading post. The new road, or Hastings' Cut-off, leaves the Fort Hall road here, and is said to be a saving of 350 or 400 miles in going to California, and a better route. There is, however, or thought to be, one stretch of 40 miles without water; but Hastings and his party, are out ahead examining for water, or for a route to avoid this stretch. I think that they cannot avoid it, for it crosses an arm of the Eutaw Lake, now dry. Mr. Bridger, and other gentlemen here, who have trapped that country, say that the Lake has receded from the tract of country in question. There is plenty of grass which we can cut and put into the waggons, for our cattle while crossing it. We are now only 100 miles from the Great Salt Lake by the new route, in all 250 miles from California; while by way of Fort Hall it is 650 or 700 miles - making a great saving in favor of jaded oxen and dust. On the new route we will not have dust, as there are about 60 waggons ahead of us. The rest of the Californians went the long route - feeling afraid of Hasting's Cutoff Mr. Bridger informs me that the route we design to take, is a fine level road, with plenty of water and grass, with the exception before stated. It is estimated that 700 miles will take us to Captain Sutter's Fort, which we hope to make in seven weeks from this day.

(9) James Reed, Pacific Rural Press (1st April, 1871)

Arriving at Fort Bridger, I added one yoke of cattle to my teams, staying here four days. Several friends of mine who had passed here with pack animals for California, had left letters with Mr. Vasquez, Mr. Bridger's partner, directing me to take the route by way of Fort Hall and by no means to go the Hastings cutoff Vasquez, being interested in having the new route travelled, kept these letters.

(10) Jessie Thornton, Oregon and California in 1848 (1849)

A large number of Oregon and California emigrants encamped at this creek, among whom I may mention the following: Messrs. West, Crabtree, Campbell, Boggs, Donners and Dunbar. I had, at one time or another, became acquainted with all of these persons in those companies, and had traveled with them from Wokaruaka, and until subsequent divisions and subdivisions had separated us. We had often, since our various separations, passed and repassed each other upon the road, and had frequently encamped together by the same water and grass, as we did now. In fact, the particular history of my own journey is the general history of theirs. The greater number of the Californians, and especially the companies in which George Donner, Jacob Donner, James F. Reed, and William H. Eddy, and their families travelled, here turned to the left, for the purpose of going by way of Fort Bridger, to meet L. W. Hastings, who had informed them, by a letter which he wrote and forwarded from where the emigrant road leaves the Sweet Water, that he had explored a new route from California, which he had found to be much nearer and better than the old one, by way of Fort Hall, and the head waters of Ogden's River, and that he would remain at Fort Bridger to give further information, and to conduct them through. The Californians were generally much elated, and in fine spirits, with the prospect of a better and nearer road to the country of their destination. Mrs. George Donner was, however, an exception. She was gloomy, sad and dispirited, in view of the fact, that her husband and other could think for a moment of leaving the old road, and confide in the statement of a man of whom they knew nothing, but who was probably some selfish adventurer.

(11) Illinois Journal (9th December, 1847)

He (James Reed) says that his misfortunes commenced on leaving Fort Bridger, which place he left on the 31st of July, 1846, in company with eighty-one others. Nothing of note occurred until the 6th of August, when they had reached within a few miles of Weaver Canyon, where they found a note from a Mr. Hastings, who was twenty miles in advance of them, with sixty wagons, saying that if they would send for him he would put them upon a new route, which would avoid the Canyon and lessen the distance to the great Salt Lake several miles. Here the company halted, and appointed three persons, who should overtake Mr. Hastings and engage him to guide them through the new route, which was promptly done.

(12) Virginia Reed, Across the Plains in the Donner Party (1891)

We were seven days in reaching Weber Canyon, and Hastings, who was guiding a party in advance of our train, left a note by the wayside warning us that the road through Weber Canyon was impassable and advising us to select a road over the mountains, the outline of which he attempted to give on paper. These directions were so vague that C.T. Stanton, William Pike, and my father rode on in advance and overtook Hastings and tried to induce him to return and guide our party. He refused, but came back over a portion of the road, and from a high mountain endeavored to point out the general course. Over this road my father traveled alone, taking notes, and blazing trees, to assist him in retracing his course.

(13) James Reed, Pacific Rural Press (25th March, 1871)

Leaving Fort Bridger, we unfortunately took the new route, traveling on without incident of note, until we arrived at the head of Webber canyon. A short distance before reaching this place we found a letter sticking in the top of a sage bush. It was from Hastings. He stated that if we would send a messenger after him he would return and pilot us through a route much shorter and better than the canyon. A meeting of the company was held, when it was resolved to send Messrs. McCutchen, Stanton and myself to Mr. Hastings; also we were at the same time to examine the canyon and report at short notice.

Next morning ascending to the summit of the mountain where we could overlook a portion of the country that lay between us and the head of the canyon, where the Donner party were camped. After he gave me the direction, Mr. Hastings and I separated. He returning to the companies he had left the morning previous, I proceeding on eastward. After descending to what may be called the table land, I took an Indian trail and blazed the route where it was necessary that the road should be made, if the company so directed when they heard the report. When McCutchen, Stanton and myself got through Webber canyon on our way to overtake Mr. Hastings, our conclusions were that many of the wagons would be destroyed in attempting to get through the canyon. Mr. Stanton and McCutchen were to return to our company as fast as their horses would stand it, they having nearly given out. I reached the company in the evening and reported to them the conclusions in regard to Weber canyon, at the same time stating that the route that I had blazed that day was fair, but would take considerable labor in clearing and digging. They agreed with unanimous voice to take that route if I would direct them in the road making, they working faithfully until it was completed.

(14) Virginia Reed, Across the Plains in the Donner Party (1891)

Only those who have passed through this country on horseback can appreciate the situation. There was absolutely no road, not even a trail. The canyon wound around among the hills. Heavy underbrush had to be cut away and used for making a road bed. While cutting our way step by step through the "Hastings Cutoff," we were overtaken and joined by the Graves family, consisting of W.F. Graves, his wife and eight children, his son-in-law Jay Fosdick, and a young man by the name of John Snyder.

Finally we reached the end of the canyon where it looked as though our wagons would have to be abandoned. It seemed impossible for the oxen to pull them up the steep hill and the bluffs beyond, but we doubled teams and the work was, at last, accomplished, almost every yoke in the train being required to pull up each wagon. While in this canon Stanton and Pike came into camp; they had suffered greatly on account of the exhaustion of their horses and had come near perishing.

(15) Jessie Thornton, Oregon and California in 1848 (1849)

On the afternoon ... they started back with Mr. Reed and Mr. Graves, for the wagons of the Messrs. Donner and Reed; and brought them up with horses and mules, on the evening .... One of Mr. Reed's wagons was brought to camp; and two, with all they contained, were buried in the plain.

They arrived at water and grass, some of their cattle having perished, and the teams which survived being in a very enfeebled condition. Here the most of the little property of which Mr. Reed still had, was buried, or cached, together with that of others. .... Here, Mr. Eddy, proposed putting his team to Mr. Reed's wagon, and letting Mr. Pike have his wagon, so that the three families could be taken on. This was done.

(16) James Reed, Pacific Rural Press (25th March, 1871)

We started to cross the desert traveling day and night only stopping to feed and water our teams as long as water and grass lasted. We must have made at least two-thirds of the way across when a great portion of the cattle showed signs of giving out. Here the company requested me to ride on and find the water and report. Before leaving I requested my principal teamster, that when my cattle became so exhausted that they could not proceed further with the wagons, to turn them out and drive them on the road after me until they reached the water, but the teamster misunderstanding unyoked them when they first showed symptoms of giving out, starting on with them for the water. I found the water about twenty miles from where I left the company and started on my return. About eleven o'clock at night, I met my teamsters with all my cattle and horses. I cautioned them particularly to keep the cattle on the road, for that as soon as they would scent the water they would break for it. I proceeded on and reached my family and wagons. Some time after leaving the man one of the horses gave out and while they were striving to get it along, the cattle scented the water and started for it. And when they started with the horses, the cattle were out of sight, they could not find them, or their trail, as they told me afterward.

Receiving no information and the water being nearly exhausted, in the evening I started on foot with my family to reach the water. In the course of the night the children became exhausted. I stopped, spread a blanket and laid them down covering them with shawls. In a short time a cold hurricane commenced blowing; the children soon complained of the cold. Having four dogs with us I had them lie down with the children outside the covers. They were then kept warm. Mrs. Reed and myself sitting to the windward helped shelter them from the storm. Very soon one of the dogs jumped up and started out barking, the others following making an attack on something approaching us. Very soon I got sight of an animal making directly for us; the dogs seizing it changed its course, and when passing I discovered it to be one of my young steers. Incautiously stating that it was mad, in a moment my wife and children started to their feet scattering like quail, and it was some minutes before I could quiet camp; there was no more complaining of being tired or sleepy the balance of the night.

(17) Virginia Reed, Across the Plains in the Donner Party (1891)

We realized that our wagons must be abandoned. The company kindly let us have two yoke of oxen, so with out ox and cow yoked together we could bring one wagon, but, alas! not the one which seemed so much like a home to us, and in which grandma had died. Some of the company went back with papa and assisted him in caching everything that could not be packed in one wagon. A cache was made by digging a hole in the ground, in which a box or the bed of a wagon was placed. Articles to be buried were packed into this box, covered with boards, and the earth thrown in upon them, and thus they were hidden from sight.

(18) Jessie Thornton, Oregon and California in 1848 (1849)

Mr. Eddy went out hunting... At noon he came up with the company, which had stopped to take some refreshments, at the foot of a very high and long sand-hill, covered with rocks at the top. At length they commenced ascending the hill. All the wagons had been taken up but Mr. Reed's, Mr. Pike's, and one of Mr. Graves', the latter driven by John Snyder. Milton Elliot, who was Mr. Reed's driver, took Mr. Eddy's team, which was on Mr. Reed's wagon, and joined it to Mr. Pike's team. The cattle of this team, being unruly, became entangled with that of Mr. Graves', driven by Snyder; and a quarrel ensued between him and Elliot. Snyder at length commenced quarreling with Mr. Reed, and made some threats of whipping him, which threats he seemed about to attempt executing. Mr. Reed then drew a knife, without, however, attempting to use it, and told Snyder that he did not wish to have any difficulty with him. Snyder told that he would whip him, "anyhow;" and turning the butt of his whip, gave Mr. Reed a severe blow upon the head, which cut it very much. As Reed was in the act of dodging the blow, he stabbed Snyder a little below the collarbone, cutting off the first rib, and driving the knife through the left lung. Snyder after this struck Mrs. Reed a blow upon the head, and Mr. Reed two blows upon the head, the last one bringing him down upon his knees. Snyder expired in about fifteen minutes. Mr. Reed, although the blood was running down over his face and shoulders from his own wounds, manifested great anguish of spirit, and threw the knife away from him and into the river. Although Mr. Reed was thus compelled to do as he did, the occurrence produced much feeling against him; and in the evening Kiesburg proposed to hang him. To this, however, he was probably prompted by a feeling of resentment, produced by Mr. Reed having been mainly instrumental in his expulsion from one of the companies, while on the South Platte, for grossly improper conduct. Mr. Eddy had two six-shooters, two double-barreled pistols, and a rifle; Milton Elliot had one rifle, and a double-barrreled shot gun; and Mr. Reed had one six-shooter, and a brace of double-barreled pistols, and rifle. Thus Mr. Reed's comrades were situated, and they determined that he should not die. Mr. Eddy, however, proposed that Mr. Reed should leave the camp. This was finally agreed to, and he accordingly left the next morning; not, however, before he had assisted in committing to the grave the body of the unhappy young man.

(19) William Graves, Russian River Flag (1877)

We had a rule in traveling which we always observed, and that was, if one wagon drove in the lead one day it should fall in the rear the next, so as to allow every one his turn in the lead. This day of a terrible tragedy my father was in the lead, Jay Fosdick second, John Snyder third, and Reed fourth; arriving at the foot of a short steep hill, my father's team was not able to pull the wagon up, so Fosdick took his team, doubled to father's and went up, then took both teams back and started up with Fosdick's. Snyder said that his team could pull up alone; just then Reed had got another team to double to his wagon, and started to pass Snyder's oxen. Reed at this time was on the opposite side of the oxen from Snyder, and said to Snyder, "you have no business here in the way;" Snyder said "it is my place." Reed started toward him, and jumping over the wagon tongue, said, "you are a damned liar, and I'll cut your heart out!" Snyder pulled his clothes open on his breast and said, "cut away." Reed ran to him and stuck a large six-inch butcher's knife into his heart and cut off two ribs. Snyder then turned the butt-end of his whip stock and struck at him three times, but missed him the third and hit Mrs. Reed, who had in the meantime got hold of her husband. Snyder then stared up the hill and went about ten steps, when he began to stagger; just then I got to him and kept him form falling; by laying him down easy, where he died in five minutes. We then went a little ways to a place where we could camp, and held a council to find out what to do with Reed and took affidavits form the witnesses with the view of giving him a fair trial when we got to civilization... Some of the company were opposed to allowing Reed to travel in the company; so they agreed to banish him.

(20) John Breen, letter to H.H. Bancroft (19th November, 1877)

On the Humboldt river, J. F. Reed and a man named Snyder quarreled and Snyder was killed; some thought Reed was to blame others that Snyder was in the wrong at all events Reed left the company on horseback and alone leaving his family with the company, I have always thought that this was a misfortune for the whole party as Reed was an intelligent and energetic man, and if he had remained the party might of got through. He said that he would go before and endeavor to send help back as provisions were now getting scarce. Now the truth is that the team was "Stalled" on a sand bank on the Humboldt river; it was Reed's team; Snyder was driving Graves team next to Reeds behind Reed was on the off side of his team assisting his man to get the team to pull. Snyder came up on the nigh side also to assist. Soon there was an altercation between Reed and Snyder. When Snyder called Reed some name and attempted to strike him across the tongue between the oxen and the wagon, Reed jumped across the tongue and stabbed him, Snyder died in a couple of hours. Mrs. Reed had nothing to do with the affair and if she had Snyder would not strike her, for he would not strike a woman at all; He was too much of a man for that. Snyders loss was mourned by the whole company; Still Reed was not blamed by many.

(21) Virginia Reed, Across the Plains in the Donner Party (1891)

At this point in our journey, we were compelled to double our teams in order to ascend a steep, sandy hill. Milton Elliott, who was driving our wagon, and John Snyder, who was driving one of Mr. Graves's, became involved in a quarrel over the management of their oxen. Snyder was beating his cattle over the head, with the butt end of his whip, when my father, returning on horseback from a hunting trip, arrived and, appreciating the great importance of saving the remainder of the oxen, remonstrated with Snyder, telling him that they were our main dependence, and at the same time offering the assistance of our team. Snyder having taken offense at something Elliott had said declared that his team could pull up alone, and kept on using abusive language. Father tried to quiet the enraged man. Hard words followed. Then my father said: "We can settle this, John, when we get up the hill." "No," replied Snyder, with an oath, "we will settle it now," and springing upon the tongue of a wagon, he struck my father a violent blow over the head with his heavy whip-stock. One blow followed another. Father was stunned for a moment and blinded by the blood streaming from the gashes in his head. Another blow was descending when my mother ran in between the men. Father saw the uplifted whip, but had only time to cry: "John, John," when down came the stroke upon mother. Quick as a thought my father's hunting knife was out and Snyder fell, fatally wounded... My father was sent out into an unknown country without provisions or arms--even his horse was at first denied him. When we learned of this decision, I followed him through the darkness, taking Elliott with me, and carried him his rifle, pistols, ammunition and some food.

(22) James Reed, Pacific Rural Press (25th March, 1871)

It was here suggested that I go in advance to California, see what had become of McCutchen and Stanton, and hurry up the supplies. They would take care of my family. That being agreed upon I started, taking with me about three days provisions, expecting to kill game on the way.

(23) Virginia Reed, Across the Plains in the Donner Party (1891)

On the 19th of October, while traveling along the Truckee, our hearts were gladdened by the return of Stanton, with seven mules loaded with provisions. Mr. McCutchen was ill and could not travel, but Captain Sutter had sent two of his Indian vaqueros, Luis and Salvador with Stanton. Hungry as we were, Stanton brought us something better than food - news that my father was alive. Stanton had met him nor far from Sutter's Fort; he had been three days without food, and his horse was not able to carry him. Stanton had given him a horse and some provisions and he had gone on. We now packed what little we had left on one mule and started with Stanton. My mother rode on a mule, carrying Tommy in her lap; Patty and Jim rode behind the two Indians, and I behind Mr. Stanton, and in this way we journeyed on through the rain.

(24) James Reed, Pacific Rural Press (25th March, 1871)

When I arrived (at Sutter's Fort) making known my situation to him, asking if he would furnish me horses and saddle to bring the women and children out of the mountains (I expected to meet them at the head of Bear Valley by the time I could return there), he at once complied with the request, also saying that he would do everything possible for me and the company. On the evening of my arrival at the Captain's, I found Messrs. Bryant, Lippencott, Grayson, and Jacobs, some of the early voyagers in the Russel Company, they having left that company at Fort Laramie, most of them coming on horseback.

(25) Edwin Bryant, What I Saw in California (1849)

I remained at Sutter's Fort .... On the 28th October, Mr. Reed, whom I have before mentioned as belonging to the rear emigrating party, arrived here. He left his party on Mary's river, and in company with one man crossed the desert and the mountains. He was several days without provisions, and when he arrived at Johnson's, was so much emaciated and exhausted by fatigue and famine, that he could scarcely walk. His object was to procure provisions immediately, and to transport them with pack-mules over the mountains for the relief of the suffering emigrants behind. He had lost all of his cattle, and had been compelled to cache two of his wagons and most of his property. Captain Sutter generously furnished the requisite quantity of mules and horses, with Indian vaqueros, and jerked meat, and flour. This is the second expedition for the relief of the emigrants he has fitted out since our arrival in the country.

(26) Illinois Journal (9th December, 1847)

Starting with seventeen horses, they (James Reed and William McCutcheon) proceeded to cross the mountains. As they advanced the snow became deeper; they reached the depth of four feet when the horses sank completely exhausted, and it was found impossible to proceed with them. Messrs. Reed and McCutcheon determined to use every effort to reach their friends. Choosing the best horses, they urged them forward - but alas! - they were obliged to leave the poor animals completely buried in snow. They then attempted to pursue their journey on foot, but for the want of snow shoes, were obliged to abandon all hope of passing the huge barrier of snow, which separated them from their families; and gathering their horses together, they returned to the valley.

(27) James Reed, Pacific Rural Press (25th March, 1871)

A number of the relief party remained here, while Messrs. Miller, McCutchen, and one of the men and myself, proceeded to the camp of the Messrs. Donner's. This was a number of miles further east. We found Mrs. Jacob Donner in a very feeble condition. Her husband had died early in the winter. We removed the tent and placed it in a more comfortable situation. I then visited the tent of Geo. Donner, close by, and found him and his wife. He was helpless. Their children and two of Jacob's had come out with the party we met at the head of Bear valley. I requested Mrs. George Donner to come out with us, as I would leave a man to take care of both Mr. George Donner and Mrs. Jacob Donner. Mrs. Geo. Donner positively refused, saying that as her children were all out she would not leave her husband in the situation he was in. After repeatedly urging her to come out, and she as positively refusing, I was satisfied in my own mind that Mrs. Geo. Donner remained with her husband for pure love and affection, and not for money, as stated by Mrs. Curtis. When I found that Mrs. Geo. Donner would not leave her husband, we took the three remaining children of Jacob Donner's leaving a man to take care of the two camps. Leaving all the provisions we could spare, and expecting the party from Sutter's fort would be in in a few days, we returned to the camp of Mrs. Graves, where all remained during the night except McCutchen, Miller, and myself, we going to the cabin of Mr. Breen, where two of my children were. Notice was given in all the camps that we would Start on Our Return To Sutter's early the next day."

(28) Virginia Reed, Across the Plains in the Donner Party (1891)

Christmas was near, but to the starving its memory gave no comfort. It came and passed without observance, but my mother had determined weeks before that her children should have a treat on this one day. She had laid away a few dried apples, some beans, a bit of tripe, and a small piece of bacon. When this hoarded store was brought out, the delight of the little ones knew no bounds. The cooking was watched carefully, and when we sat down to our Christmas dinner mother said, "Children, eat slowly for this one day you can have all you wish." So bitter was the misery relieved by that one bright day, that I have never since sat down to a Christmas dinner without my thoughts going back to Donner Lake.

(29) Virginia Reed, Across the Plains in the Donner Party (1891)

When Milt Elliott died - our faithful friend, who seemed so like a brother - my mother and I dragged him up out of the cabin and covered him with snow. Commencing at his feet, I patted the pure white snow down softly until I reached his face. Poor Milt! it was hard to cover that face from sight forever, for with his death our best friend was gone.

(30) Virginia Reed, Across the Plains in the Donner Party (1891)

On the evening of February 19th, 1847, they reached our cabins, where all were starving. They shouted to attract attention. Mr. Breen, clambered up the icy steps from our cabin, and soon we heard the blessed words, "Relief, thank God, relief!" There was joy at Donner Lake that night, for we did not know the fate of the Forlorn Hope and we were told that relief parties would come and go until all were across the mountains. But with the joy sorrow was strangely blended. There were tears in other eyes than those of children; strong men sat down and wept. For the dead were lying about on the snow, some were even unburied, since the living had not had strength to bury their dead.

(31) James Reed, Pacific Rural Press (25th March, 1871)

A number of the relief party remained here, while Messrs. Miller, McCutchen, and one of the men and myself, proceeded to the camp of the Messrs. Donner's. This was a number of miles further east. We found Mrs. Jacob Donner in a very feeble condition. Her husband had died early in the winter. We removed the tent and placed it in a more comfortable situation. I then visited the tent of Geo. Donner, close by, and found him and his wife. He was helpless. Their children and two of Jacob's had come out with the party we met at the head of Bear valley. I requested Mrs. George Donner to come out with us, as I would leave a man to take care of both Mr. George Donner and Mrs. Jacob Donner. Mrs. Geo. Donner positively refused, saying that as her children were all out she would not leave her husband in the situation he was in. After repeatedly urging her to come out, and she as positively refusing, I was satisfied in my own mind that Mrs. Geo. Donner remained with her husband for pure love and affection, and not for money, as stated by Mrs. Curtis. When I found that Mrs. Geo. Donner would not leave her husband, we took the three remaining children of Jacob Donner's leaving a man to take care of the two camps. Leaving all the provisions we could spare, and expecting the party from Sutter's fort would be in in a few days, we returned to the camp of Mrs. Graves, where all remained during the night except McCutchen, Miller, and myself, we going to the cabin of Mr. Breen, where two of my children were. Notice was given in all the camps that we would Start on Our Return To Sutter's early the next day.

(32) Virginia Reed, letter to her cousin (16th May, 1847)

I have not written to you about half of our trouble. But thank God we have got through and the only family that did not eat human flesh. We have left everything but I don't care for that. We have got through with our lives. Never take no cut offs and hurry along as fast as you can.