Posted tagged ‘Donner Lake’

DONNER REDUX? – 173 years

February 18, 2019


Well, I hope not.  Not really.  Not an actual  “redux”  but that’s been a word that’s popped up in my writings a lot this week.     As well as the location.


A mother’s  thoughts  

173 years ago  the Donner Party left  their known world.    172 years ago the first rescue party made it to the members of the Donner party, camped here and there,  buried in the snow.

This week, in February, 2019,  Son will be heading in that direction —  heading exactly  for Donner Lake, exactly  172 years later.      He’ll be visiting his sister and her little family;   being “Uncle”  to Cooper.

Son  will be well fed, I’m sure;  he won’t have to eat his dog – or his friends,   but he’ll be equally buried in snow.       Here’s where he’ll be staying, somewhere under that snowstorm:

Truckee Storm now

Donner Lake is just over that snow bank.

His brother-in-law is clearing a path for him.  

Truckee MORE snow

Yeah,  well,  more snow in the forecast.  

The public school system has this week off – so they can go skiing.  Ski Week, they call it.   However, I just read a news article that tells them they can’t go skiing.   Too much snow!  Again.    Buried the lifts.

Too much snow


I’ve been to this area many times.  I’ve walked through the  Donner Party Museum.   It’s not a place where you want to buy trivial souvenirs from;  but  I have a reprint of the journal of young man, a keenly observant teenager;  harrowing writing  . . . . The church I go to when I’m out there is just across Alder Creek,  mentioned below in the Donner Party Timeline.    These people are very real to me.

This week our local weather forecast is  -1   (one below zero),  freezing rain, and 1-3 inches of   snow.    I have nothing to complain about.

Except the temporary  “loss” of my son.





  • February 19, 1847: Patrick Breen’s diary: “Froze hard last night. 7 men arrived from California yesterday with som provisions, but left the greater part on the way. To day clear & warm for this region. Some of the men are gone to day to Donner’s Camp. Will start back on Monday.” Daniel Rhoads, one of the rescuers, recalled, “At sunset, we crossed Truckee Lake on the ice, and came to the spot where, we had been told, we should find the emigrants. We looked all around, but no living thing except ourselves was in sight. We raised a loud hello. And then we saw a woman emerge from a hole in the snow. As we approached her, several others made their appearance, in like manner coming out of the snow. They were gaunt with famine; and I never can forget the horrible, ghastly sight they presented. The first woman spoke in a hollow voice, very much agitated, and said, ‘Are you men from California or do you come from heaven?’
  • February 20, 1847: Catherine Pike dies. Three of the rescuers go to Alder Creek to check on the Donners.
  • February 21, 1847: Patrick Breen’s diary: “Thawey, warm day.” The rescuers return to the lake camp from Alder Creek bringing six emigrants who are strong enough to travel.
  • February 22, 1847: First Relief: Rescuers leave the lake camp with 23 refugees. Second Relief: After spending several days drying meat at Johnson’s Ranch, Reed’s party sets out for the mountains. Patrick Breen’s diary: “The Californians started this morning, 24 [23] in number, some in a very weak state. Fine morning. Wind S.W. for the 3 last days. Mrs Keysburg started & left Keysburg here[; he was] unable to go… Paddy Reid & Tho[mas]s. came back.” Patty Reed, eight years old, and her little brother Tommy give out and have to be taken back to the Breen cabin. Patty tells her mother “Well, Ma, if you never see me again, do the best that you can“; thirty-one people remain in the camps. There have been ten deaths at the lake camp and four at Alder Creek.
  • February 23, 1847: Patrick Breen’s diary: “Froze hard last night. To day fine & thawey. Has the appearance of spring. All but the deep snow. Wind S.S.E. Shot Towser [a dog] today & dressed his flesh. Mrs Graves came here this morning to borrow meat—dog or ox. They think I have meat to spare; but I know to the Contrary. They have plenty hides; I live principally on the same.
  • February 24, 1847: First Relief: John Denton is unable to continue and must be left behind.
  • February 25, 1847: First Relief: Ada Keseberg dies and is buried in the snow. Patrick Breen’s diary: “Froze hard last night. Fine & sunshiny to day. Wind W. Mrs Murphy says the wolves are about to dig up the dead bodies at her shanty; the nights are too cold to watch them; we hear them howl.
  • February 26, 1847: Patrick Breen’s diary: “Martha’s jaw swelled with the toothache: hungry times in camp; plenty hides, but the folks will not eat them. We eat them with a tolerable good apetite. Thanks be to Almighty God. Amen. Mrs Murphy said here yesterday that [she] thought she would Commence on Milt. & eat him. I don’t [think] that she has done so yet; it is distressing. The Donners, 4 days ago, told the California folks that they [would] commence to eat the dead people if they did not succeed, that day or next, in finding their cattle, [which were] then under ten or twelve feet of snow, & [the Donners] did not know the spot or near it; I suppose they have done so ere this time.



July 31, 2018


Patching up our cracked-up world with goldfish and sailing.


ground cracks

The ground does seem to be cracking up underneath me.  Nothing I can’t handle.  It’s just . . .  difficult and uncertain for now.

It’s still Tuesday here tonight.  July 31st.   Hubbie’s birthday.     I know he’s been gone for a few little years,  but it’s anniversaries and milestones,  his milestones and ours,  that brings everything back, fresh again.    There are things we must remember and things we must do to make our memories alive and healthy.

One thing that we  feel we must do is our  annual  Goldfish Pond Dump in honor of Hubbie.

Each year  (after Hubbie’s death) Son and I add goldfish into our backyard pond, on his birthday.   How many?    We add as many goldfish as his age would be!

Fish with Son

It was a great tradition begun the very first summer after his death.

Fish into pond

We get them used to the temperature and the water of the pond for a while.

And then they’re ready to meet their new home:

Fish in Pond

Most of them make it just fine throughout our long, icy northern winter. And many of them escape our hungry kingfishers.    But we need to add more fish again this year;  we see only one old goldfish swimming around.

We’ll do it.

Hubbie’s  death was a major crack-up in our lives *,  but the cracks are coming together,  getting smaller; we’re stepping around them.    New traditions patch them up a little bit.

And good things will come out of this difficult summer, if only a deeper knowledge of how rare and  precious each life is and how important we are to each other.


Well.  Well!!     The phone rang just before I clicked “Publish.”        Daughter called from her California home —

donner lake

—-   wishing her Dad a “Happy  Birthday.”     But more!    Her husband was delayed from coming home by a traffic accident on I-80 tonight, so she decided to go out on her paddleboard —


—  and then paddle on over to her sailboat   —


—   And then she paddled home again.      (Sigh-h-h-h,  such is the life when you live on a lake)

Daughter and Hubbie loved to sail on our little nearby lake.    Daughter left home and  took her  skill further, learning  some ocean sailing too,  but tonight she did it for her Dad.

Above all, after our world “cracked apart” when Hubbie died,   we understood that Hubbie worked hard to give us the opportunities we have now, and he would have wanted us to use those opportunities, to keep on living, to enjoy our lives.       My sister also  knows, for very sure now,  that we have things left to do in our own lives,  things to learn, things to enjoy.

It’s what my sister would want.

It’s what I will want after I leave this world too.




.*  (Spruce Tunnel Archives,  November  2010)