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Study Notes

The Donner Party

Level:
GCSE
Board:
Edexcel

Last updated 24 Oct 2017

The Donner Party was a group of 300 migrants led by the Donner brothers. They set out on the Oregon Trail in May 1846. In July, around 80 of the party decided to split off and try a short cut that had been written by trail guide Lansford Hastings. Hastings had claimed the short cut was easy to travel across with plenty of water and grass.

The Donner Party was a group of 300 migrants led by the Donner brothers. They set out on the Oregon Trail in May 1846. In July, around 80 of the party decided to split off and try a short cut that had been written by trail guide Lansford Hastings. Hastings had claimed the short cut was easy to travel across with plenty of water and grass.

 

However Lasting’s had never actually travelled across the short cut himself. The route turned out to be disastrous for the party. It was difficult to cross due to dangerous rivers and uneven terrain. At times there were long stretches with no water or grass. By mid-October the party reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains and by November their oxen were completely exhausted. Winter approached and snowstorms forced the Party to a standstill.

 

Rescuers reached the party in February 1847. Only about 40 of the original 80 migrants were still alive. The vast majority of these survivors had only survived by turning to cannibalism and eating those who had died. This case study demonstrates the dangers of migrating West and the comparative safety of the Oregon Trail. 

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