• LOCATION 66 | Interstate 55: St. Louis, MO to Springfield, IL

    Donner Party

    After we pass underneath this bridge, to our right is a large grain elevator. About a mile beyond that elevator lived the most famous 19th century American migratory family, the Donners, better known as the Donner Party. In 1846, the Donnors and another Springfield family, the Reeds, headed west to California only to get trapped in snow while crossing the Sierra-Nevada Mountains, and as legend has it, were then forced to eat one another in order to survive. While a plaque in downtown Springfield commemorates the party’s departure point, there can be no doubt that their journey west really officially began from their home, just to our right.

    34 people left Springfield and several others joined the group along the way. A total of 81 people, more than half of them children under the age of 18, climbed the Sierra Nevada mountains the following November, when an early snowstorm delivered over 4 feet of snow trapping the group for months. Several members of the group starved to death, and after they died, the story, goes the others in the party ate their bodies as that was their only source of food. 45 of the 81 people made it out alive several months later, and the story of the Donner Party, which had its origin just a short distance behind us, remains one of the most legendary, tragic, and bizarre tales of early US Western Migration.

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Interstate 55: St. Louis, MO to Springfield, IL