Donner Party Diary   by Daniel M. Rosen


The Donner Party was the most famous tragedy during the westward migration. Almost ninety wagon train emigrants were unable to cross the Sierra Nevada before winter, and almost one-half starved to death. Perhaps because they were ordinary people -- farmers, merchants, parents, children -- their story captures the imagination.

The monthly logs on this site contain the words of the participants from their diaries, letters and first-hand accounts, supplemented with information from later historians. The logs describe the locations of their trail and camps in detail so you can follow in the Donner Party’s wagon tracks and footsteps. You can refer to the bibliography to learn more about the sources of the information on this website.

You can read what happened to the members of the Donner Party, those who survived and those who didn’t. You can read about the salvage operations, and the remains of the Alder Creek campsites and the Lake Cabins.

You can also read news related to the Donner Party, including an attempt to recreate and document the journey of the Forlorn Hope snowshoe party, and reports from other Donner Party buffs who visited historic sites and made new discoveries or re-discovered a bit of history. You can also follow links to other websites about the Donner Party.

Forlorn Hope Reprise

The leaders of the Forlorn Hope Expedition, Bob Crowley and Tim Twietmeyer, will give two presentations about their amazing tribute to the courage and determination of the original Forlorn Hope, the seventeen members of the Donner Party who set out from the lake camp on snowshoes in a desperate attempt to reach help. The first presentation will be at lunch during the first day of the Donner Summit Hike on Saturday, September 18, 2021. The second presentation will be that afternoon at 5 p.m. at the Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center.

The Forlorn Hope Expedition members, two men and two women, all accomplished ultra-distance runners, set out 174 years to the day after the original Forlorn Hope. Like them, the Expedition crossed the Sierra Nevada mountains on foot, in winter, from Donner Lake to Johnson’s Ranch. They followed the most likely route of the snowshoers who became lost before reaching Bear Valley. The Expedition documented the trip online with photos, videos and a GPS tracker.

What happened to the Donner Party during this month?