Donner Party descendant presents at Tulare Library

Pat Hillman presents a story on the treacherous wagon train that came across the Sierra Nevadas in 1846/47 with the Sequoia Genealogical Society

TULARE – After almost two hundred years, a local Tularian and descendant of the migrants from the Donner party, will be telling the story of the Donner family at the Tulare Public Library.

Presented for the benefit of the Sequoia Genealogical Society, Pat Hillman, will take center stage. Hillman’s paternal great-grandmother was a daughter of George Donner, who was the captain of the ill-fated wagon trial. The event will be held on March 2 at the Tulare Public Library, 475 M Street, in the Olympic Room at 6 p.m. There is no cost to attend and the presentation will be followed by refreshments.

The story of the tragic attempt to cross the Sierra Nevadas in the winter of 1846-47 will be told through a DVD presentation. Hillman will be available to answer questions following the showing. Hillman is a fourth-generation Californian, native Tulareian and the focus of her presentation will be on a completed genealogical story of the Donner family, not just a how-to research program. 

In 1846, a group of migrants were traveling west to California from Independence, Missouri. Along the way, different families joined the group, totalling around 80 migrants. Unfortunately the group got caught in the snowy Sierra Nevadas and was forced to find ways to survive. Camps were put together at what is now known as Donner Lake because there was too much snow for the group to carry on. 

Of the 80, about half were ultimately able to make it through the Sierras, many dying from the elements and malnutrition. Many in the group left behind the majority of their belongings before heading up the Sierras, loosening the load on the weary animals, but also losing many valuable items. After the camps were set up, a handful of men and women set out on a mission in snowshoes, trudging through the snow to get help.

Once the group on snowshoes reached the Sacramento region, relief groups were created. The relief groups were made of small groups carrying provisions that would then trudge back through the snow to slowly bring individuals back. These missions would take some time and once all viable sources of nutrition were gone, some individuals resorted to cannibalism of those who had already perished.   

As the 40 remaining survivors were able to get through the Sierra Nevadas, they spread out throughout the state. Many settled in places like the Central Valley, Sacramento, San Juan Bautista and other areas up and down the coast. Buried in the Visalia Cemetery is Mary Anna Graves, one of the survivors of the treacherous journey. She was born in Indiana and died in Tulare at the age of 64 in 1891. Others like Jim Bridger, who is said to be a salesman on the Donner trail, are also buried there. 

The Sequoia Genealogical Society meets on the first Thursday evening of each month. There is no cost to attend and the public is welcomed. Parking at the library is free with handicapped parking available. For more information individuals can call 559-685-4518.

Start typing and press Enter to search