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Pioneer Days - August 2, 2019

Donner Memorial State Park, including Donner Lake, near Truckee, California.  (Photo from Wikipedia)

Q: The infamous Donner-Reed Party traveled along the Oregon Trial on its way to California. Long before the pioneers ran into a blizzard in the Sierra Nevada mountains (near present-day Truckee, California), they lost one of their members in what is now northeast Kansas. In which Kansas county is this victim, Sarah Keyes, buried?

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A: Marshall County

The Donner-Reed Party was a group of American pioneers who traveled west on the Oregon Trail and rested along the banks of the Big Blue River in what is now northeast Kansas. It was here, in what is now Marshall County, that the Donner-Reed party first lost one of its members. Sarah Keyes remains buried at Alcove Springs, located near Blue Rapids, Kansas (not far from Marysville). The 70-year-old woman died from "consumption," or what we now call tuberculosis.

The pioneers were delayed in their trip west by a series of mishaps. The party spent the winter of 1846-47 snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The pioneers became trapped by an early, heavy snowfall near Truckee Lake (now Donner Lake). Their food supplies ran dangerously low and some of the group set out on foot to obtain help. Some of the travelers resorted to cannibalism in order to survive, eating the bodies of those who had succumbed to starvation and sickness. Rescuers from California attempted to reach the migrants, but the first relief party did not arrive until the middle of February 1847, almost four months after the wagon train became trapped. Of the 87 members of the party, only 48 survived the ordeal. Historians have described the episode as one of the most spectacular tragedies in California history, and in the entire record of American westward migration.

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