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In 1846, A Group Of 80 Pioneers Became Stranded In A Blizzard, And Half Of The Individuals Died Of Starvation, While The Others Were Forced To Resort To Cannibalism

Chris - stock.adobe.com - illustrative purposes only

Recently, a blizzard struck California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, leaving trucks stranded in deep snowdrifts along Interstate 80 at Donner Pass. Many people were forced to sleep in their vehicles as they waited out the life-threatening storm.

Drone video footage showed hundreds of semi-trucks and other vehicles parked next to each other, surrounded by feet of snow. Luckily, the highway reopened after conditions cleared up, and road crews were able to remove the snow.

The incident has brought to mind another similar event that occurred many decades ago. Donner Pass is notorious for a 19th-century disaster that led to cannibalism after a group of travelers got stuck in the area during a snowstorm. Surely, the people who were trapped on the mountain most recently must’ve been relieved when rescuers arrived.

In 1846, the Donner Party, which consisted of around 80 people, left Illinois and headed west to California in covered wagons. A year later, almost half of them would be dead from starvation and disease. Worst of all, some of their group were forced to resort to cannibalism to survive. So, how did their journey become one of the worst tragedies to occur in the history of American Western migration?

First of all, the Donner Party started their trip extremely late. The journey to the west required travelers to follow a tight schedule. Ideally, they would’ve made their departure sometime in mid to late April, a period that was late enough for grass to have grown for their pack animals but early enough to make it past the mountains before winter. However, the Donner Party didn’t leave until May 12. A wrong turn also extended their journey.

After reaching Wyoming, most pioneers headed toward California would take a tried-and-true route that went through Idaho and Nevada. But the Donner Party went in another direction. A guidebook author had been promoting a path that cut through the Wasatch Mountains and across the Salt Lake Desert. He claimed that it was quicker, but no one had ever traveled the route with covered wagons before.

Still, the Donner Party decided to take the risk and break off from the usual route. The so-called shortcut ended up costing them almost a month, and they had to clear much of the path themselves. By early November 1846, they arrived in the Sierra Nevada.

Before they could get through the mountains, a blizzard buried the area in several feet of snow. They had no choice but to wait for conditions to improve. The majority of their supplies had been lost during their travels, and soon enough, the first settlers began to starve to death.

A month after they became stuck on the mountain, a group of 15 people tried to seek help. For several days, they wandered the frozen landscape on the verge of collapse. Some members of the party died, and the survivors roasted and consumed their remains. Seven of the members made it to a ranch a month later, where they organized rescue efforts.

Chris – stock.adobe.com – illustrative purposes only

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