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California history - interesting facts Our material for this presentation is offered in support of Chapter 5, Pioneers in California
There were many wagon trains which brought pioneers to California. In 1846, one hundred and fifty years ago this year, the ill-fated Donner Party left the East for California. The story of their difficulties is told in the book Patty Reed's Doll.
In the winter of 1846-47, a group of 87 pioneers known as the Donner Party was stranded by heavy snows in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They endured bitter hardships while trapped for months.
Rescuers set out in the midst of a snow storm. According to one account several in that first party turned back, since it was not known precisely where the Donner Group was located, and the way was nearly impassable.
Other rescuers were planning expeditons to help. To avoid getting lost in the wilderness, and to help other groups following their lead, the first expedition burned every dead pine tree that they came to on or near the trail they were making.
On the return trip, supplies that had been stored to feed the expedition as they retraced their steps were missing, eaten by animals that found the food. As a result the rescue party had to eat the rawhide out of which they had made snowshoes.
There were four rescue expeditions in all, with the last expedition finishing it's work in April, 1847. Only 47 persons in this tragic company survived.
How did the first expedition mark the trail, so that they could find their way out?
Answer: They burned dead trees that were in the line of their trail. This was safe to do, since the snow was so deep, the fire could not spread.
"The story of the Donner Party reminded the country of the great danger of the journey to California." How many expeditions were necessary before the last of the company was rescued?
Answer: There were four expeditions, starting in January, 1847 with the final group completing their efforts in April of that year.
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