Unfortunately, there is no information printed on the back of the old postcard shown above. I adore the image and fancy it as the work of Ansel Adams because it has his touch of stark surrender to a scene.
On April 16, 1846, nine covered wagons left Springfield, Illinois on the 2500 mile journey to California, in what would become one of the greatest tragedies in the history of westward migration. The originator of this group was a man named James Frasier Reed, an Illinois business man, eager to build a greater fortune in the rich land of California. Reed also hoped that his wife, Margaret, who suffered from terrible headaches, might improve in the coastal climate. Reed had recently read the book The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California, by Landsford W. Hastings, who advertised a new shortcut across the Great Basin. This new route enticed travelers by advertising that it would save the pioneers 350-400 miles on easy terrain. However, what was not known by Reed was that the Hastings Route had never been tested, written by Hastings who had visions of building an empire at Sutter’s Fort (now Sacramento.) It was this falsified information that would lead to the doom of the Donner Party.
~ excerpt from Legends of America - The Donner Party Tragedy....click HERE to read in full
Being a Reno girl, this was the story in my childhood that outshone all others for its down-the-road reality and not-long-ago immediacy. We discussed it in depth every year of elementary school and it all came to life for me each summer when my family enjoyed days at Donner Lake. The figures comprising the pioneer family of the memorial statue at Donner Memorial State Park weren't exactly like beloved family members, but they meant much more to me than mere strangers who suffered there before my time.
Ordeal by Hunger, by George R. Stewart was required reading in high school but so many Nevadans had copies of the famous book in their home libraries that most students had read the book before then. I was one of them; it remains unforgettable for me. I found an interesting review of the book at, of all surprising places, the NYU School of Medicine website. There in its Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database the book is summarized and commentary is provided for the "medical humanities reader." I thought the keywords were most telling: Death and Dying, Human Worth, Memory, Nature, Parenthood, Scapegoating, Suffering, Survival, Trauma.
The story is told in graphic but tender detail in the PBS American Experience video, The Donner Party (a Ric Burns film). You can watch online.....and if you have time to do so I know you will not feel your time was wasted. It is a great work.
If you would like more information about Donner Lake and region (in this century!) it can be found at
this website maintained by a local resident.
Finally, I'm excited to welcome Shay's Word Garden as the first blog to join me in Old Postcard Wednesday! Shay/Fireblossom is a new blogging friend and since she read my OPW last week we have become a club of two. Shay's first OPW post is about the beautiful Evelyn Nesbit and it is great. Never did I imagine on May 14, 2008, when I shared my first Old Postcard Wednesday (here) from that old box that belonged to my grandmother, that I would have grown to love doing these posts so much, learned so much while researching for them, and would have actually become a bit of a collector myself two years later. Shay, my friend, you are in for some wonderful fun and soulful discoveries...and I can tell from your first OPW post that we are also.