On April 5, 1846, the Breen family and Patrick Dolan departed from Keokuk, Iowa.
John Breen, 14 years old at the time of the voyage, recalled their departure 31 years later in a letter to the historian H.H. Bancroft:
"We left our home in Iowa with three wagons drawn by seven yoke of oxen, - and some cows and horses. The horses were intended for the saddle, as at that time in Iowa, it was thought that horses were not suitable to draw wagons across the Rocky mountains as the country between the Missouri and California was called-"
"Two of the wagons were loaded with provisions & the third a light wagon carried the small children and some beds. We crossed the Missouri river at Glascow after a very tedious journey on account of high water as the spring of 1846 was exceeding wet, in that part of the country."
At New Helvetia (Sutter's Fort), the western end of the Trail, Lansford Hastings set out eastward. Hasting's motives were questioned by Sutter in a letter he had written on April 3 to Marsh: "Capt. Hastings is leaving this place in a few days, to cross the mountains again, .... if he is going to the U.S. or not, or go, and meet the Emigrants, nobody knows for certain, perhaps nobody will see him here again, as his life will be in danger about his book, making out California a paradise, even some of the Emigrants in the Valley, threatened his life, and by his imprudent writing, he made himself the Country people to his ennemy I like to be hospitable, but I am very glad when Capt. Hastings is gone, ...."
According to William Graves, in his article "Crossing the Plains in '46" which was published in the Russian River Flag on April 26 and May 3, 10 and 17, 1877: "On the twelfth of April, 1846, my father, Franklin Ward Graves, strarted, with his family, consisting of my mother, and Sarah, May Ann, myself, Eleanor, Lavina, Nancy, Jonathan, Franklin and Elizabeth, the latter only about nine months old, from Marshall county, Illinois, to come to California. My oldest sister, Sarah, had been married to Jay Fosdick a few weeks before we started; he and a hired man by the name of John Snider completed our company from that place till we got to St. Joseph, Missouri, ..." where we joined a large party, some bound for Oregon and some for California.
On April 14, 1846, the Reed and Donner families left their homes in Springfield, Illinois.
A notice of their departure was printed in the Sangamo Journal, Springfield, Illinois, on April 23, 1846, under the headline "Ho! For Oregon and California" "The company which left here last week for California embraced 15 men, 8 women and 16 children. They had nine waggons. They were in good spirits, and we trust they will safely reach their anticipated home."
In her 1891 memoirs, Virginia Reed recalled the departure of the Donner-Reed company: "Never can I forget the morning when we bade farewell to kindred and friends. The Donners were there, having driven in the evening before with their families, so that we might get an early start. Grandma Keyes was carried out of the house and placed in the wagon on a large feather bed, propped up with pillows. Her sons implored her to remain and end her days with them, but she could not be separated from her only daughter. We were surrounded by loved ones, and there stood all my little schoolmates who had come to kiss me good-by. My father with tears in his eyes tried to smile as one friend after another grasped his hand in a last farewell. Mama was overcome with grief. At last the drivers cracked their whips, the oxen moved slowly forward and the long journey had begun. ... Many friends camped with us the first night out and my uncles traveled on for several days before bidding us a final farewell. It seemed to be strange to be riding in ox-teams, and we children were afraid of the oxen, thinking they could go wherever they pleased as they had no bridles."
"1846 Left Home th 26 of April" This is the first entry in the Miller-Reed Diary, a diary begun by Hiram Miller, friend of the Reeds. This may indicate that Miller did not leave Springfield with the Reeds and Donners on April 14, the start date given by Virginia Reed and confirmed by the Sangamo Journal article.
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