Saturday, June 15, 2019

Phantoms of The Donner Party

A brutal storm hit the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1846. Twenty-two feet of snow accumulated.

In November of this same year, a group of 87 pioneers—the Donner Party-- heading from Springfield, Illinois to the gold fields of California took an ill-advised shortcut and found themselves stranded in this ferocious mountain snowstorm.

Traveling across the Great Plains.

As hypothermia set in and their food supplies ran out, starving and delirious this group resorted to the greatest human taboo—cannibalism.

We know this because of their journals and from the survivors who later gave interviews.

One female survivor when questioned about how this experience affected her stated—

“What would you do if you were a mother watching your children starve and freeze to death? You’ve already eaten the horses and oxen, and boiled their hides into a horrible gelatinous concoction; you’ve eaten field mice and finally cut the throats of your beloved family dogs and eaten them, paws and all. But you know that there’s protein that will keep you alive in those snow banks.”

She refers to the people who had already died . . .

A train in more recent years
stranded in the snow at Donner Pass.
The snow was so deep the first rescue party was not able to reach the Donner Party until February, the rescues continued through March and April. Less than half of the party survived the winter.

That summer, Union Army Gen. Stephen Kearny had the grim task of cleaning up the Donner Party’s debris.

Donner Pass photo from 1870.
He and his men gathered up all the remnants they could find—including human remains—they placed them in one of the hastily built shacks and set the whole thing ablaze.

The local Truckee residents and many others believe the site where the Donner Party was stranded is haunted.

Memorial Statue--top of
 the pedestal is exactly 22 feet
to show the depth of snow
in 1846.
This area today is the Donner Memorial State Park. Nikko Combs, a park interpreter states that the area just might be haunted. She points to the fact the park brought in a cadaver dog, that indicated one specific area holds human remains.

People believe that one ghost that haunts the park is Tamsen Donner. She was one heroine of this tragic story.

Tamsen Donner
At the time the Donner Party was stranded, Tamsen’s husband, George—the leader of the group, injured his hand. She refused to leave her husbands’ side, which resulted in her own death.

When the first rescue party arrived, she sent her children with them but remained with George, who was unable to move for his hand and arm was now gangrenous. This ultimately claimed his life.

Today people visit the park to hike, camp and, cross-country ski. And then there are what Combs calls the “spooky history buffs.”

One of these visitors, Elizabeth, found herself getting a warm feeling as she drove toward Donner Pass. She felt she was about to see an old friend, this confused her for she had no plans to do this.

As she neared the park, tears sprang to her eyes unbidden. As she parked, she smelled a campfire burning. She felt someone was watching her, but she was the only one around.

She walked to a cabin the Donner Party used, she heard voices, but no one was there and no fire was burning at this site.

Another witness was not looking for a paranormal experience.

He was out skiing alone at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, close to where the Donner Party camped when he became disoriented and realized he was lost.

A woman approached him, dressed strangely. She led him to a camp where several other people were. He then found the trail he needed to be upon.

He returned to this camp to thank the woman, but there was no trace of her or the campsite. Nothing was there to indicate that it had been full of people just minutes before.

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