The Donner Party

"...We came down the lake to some cabins that had been built by some emigrants last fall. ... The general [Kearny] called a halt and ordered 5 men to bury the deserted bodies that were lying on the ground. Those who lived the longest lived on the dead bodies of the others. One man lived about four months on human flesh. This place now goes by the name of cannibal camp. ... After we had buried the bones of the dead we set fire to the cabin."

From the diary of Sargeant Nathaniel Jones

"When the return party of Gen. Kearny (which I accompanied) reached the scene of these horrible and tragical occurrences, on the 22d of June, 1847, a halt was ordered, for the purpose of collecting and interring the remains. Near the principal cabins, I saw two bodies, entire with the exception that the abdomens had been cut open and the entrails extracted. Their flesh had been either wasted by famine or evaporated by exposure to the dry atmosphere, and the presnted the appearance of mummies. Strewn around the cabins were dislocated and broken bones - skulls, (in some instances sawed asunder with care for the purpose of extracting the brains,) - human skeletons, in short, in every variety of mutilation. A more revolting and appalling spectacle I never witnessed. The remains were, by an order of Gen. Kearny, collected and buried under the superintendence of Major Swords. They were interred in a pit which had been dug in the centre of one of the cabins for a cache. These melancholy duties to the dead being performed, the cabins, by order of Major Swords, were fired, and with every thing surrounding them connected with this horrid and melancholy tragedy, were consumed. The body of George Donner was found at his camp, about eight or ten miles distant, wrapped in a sheet. He was buried by a party of men detailed for that purpose."

From Edwin Bryant's book What I Saw In California

Hearth in Sierra Nevada may be from Donner party; cannibalism case
Wed Jul 14,10:46 PM ET


TRUCKEE, Calif. (AP) - Archeologists have unearthed a cooking hearth in the Sierra Nevada where they believe the Donner party gathered for meagre meals in the mid-1800s months before starvation led to the country's most famous tale of cannibalism.

Government and university researchers said Wednesday that bone fragments they located appear to be large enough to allow for DNA testing to determine if they are human. They also found lead shot, musket balls, jewelry beads and wagon parts.

If some of the bones are human, they would be the first physical evidence to back up survivors' accounts that some members of the Donner party resorted to cannibalism to survive being trapped in snow during the winter of 1846-47.

Dogs trained to find graves in criminal investigations are repeatedly signalling the presence of human remains at the site in the Tahoe National Forest just north of Truckee, about 55 kilometres southwest of Reno, Nev.

Some of the bones clearly are not human - probably deer. But others could prove to be human through nuclear DNA testing.

The dig is taking place at a picnic area at Alder Creek Camp, where it's believed the George and Jacob Donner families were trapped. A Discovery Channel team found the site last summer by using ground-penetrating radar.

This summer's dig found the hearth buried about a 30 centimetres deep in a meadow covered with wildflowers and surrounded by 30-metre-tall ponderosa pines.

The Donner party families travelled west in the spring and summer of 1846 to claim free land in California. The party took an unproven shortcut, and was delayed on the trail in Utah and Nevada. The 81 men, women and children reached the Sierra in late October and were trapped in the snow at two camps, one at Donner Lake and the lower camp at Alder Creek.

About half the pioneers died, and some survivors ate the flesh of their dead companions to stay alive. By then they had eaten their dogs and even boiled leather to eat the resulting glue to fend off starvation.

Ass Full of Cum . Cannibalism in the Southwest