Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Old Postcard Wednesday--Donner Lake, California

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 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.



the watercats said...

Love this postcard! and the whole post. I'm fascinated by the story of america, it is both terrible and beautiful and there must be so many stories of human endeavor and spirit that never reach the light of day. I'm about to go and check out that film and see if I can get it to work on our dodgy mountain broadband :-)

Fireblossom said...

Hello, my gracious OPW-sharing friend! What a harrowing part of history you've brought out here. I've read that book, "Ordeal By Hunger", and was appalled and speechless when I found out that the writer of their guide book had never actually been there himself. I keep a book log, and I looked and saw that I had read it almost 20 years ago, in October of 1992, and that surprised me. It is still so immediate and vivid in my mind.

You're such a doll to provide the links and all the kind words about my companion post. Thank you! OPW is simply a fabulous idea. Now I am off to check out the first one!

the watercats said...

WOW!... just watched the film....

"never take no cut off's and just hurry along as fast as you can"...

That has got to be a mantra for a life!

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

OK -so the photo kinda reminded me of the pictures of Anton Corbjyn - rock photographer and now film maker (Joy Division, U2, Depeche Mode and the excellent biopic of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis "Control")

Wonderful image.

NB: Skive - to take it easy when you should be working. Ferris Bueller is basically skiving off school in the movie

Phivos Nicolaides said...

Your posts are always well presented and have something to tell... Hugs.

La Belette Rouge said...

There is something so haunting and ominous about that postcard. It is as if the landscape knows what has happened there.

Lydia said...

the watercats~ That is so great that you actually watched the film! When I read that in the afternoon I sat here and watched the first half again, and will finish it sometime this week. I'm enjoying it all over again.
I wish you guys could tour this country because you would see and enjoy it to the fullest. Maybe someday!

Fireblossom~ Loved knowing that you know the book, too. It kills me that I did not keep up with my book log. It's wonderful that you have maintained yours for this many years. Wonderful to have you join me on OPW. :)

Pixies~ Your knowledge base is deep and I must find out about the photographer you mentioned. Rock photographer sounds like it might have been his style to do this shot. Does the time frame fit, though? Not sure how old this old postcard is but probably the 40s-50s...
Yup, skive means what I thought it meant. :)

Phivos~ The same could be said for every travel post at your blog! :)

La Belette Rouge~ It's true, what you said. There is a knowing by nature that seems to speak through the image. I've held off running this postcard because ...well, once they're gone they're gone. No more anticipation wondering when I would post it!

Abhilasha-The Desire said...

Loved the post card and also the story you brought forward. This was harrowing that the guy build that route out of his imagination leaving others t find the authenticity in it.
I can only recall one statement which my husband always say as his mantra "Always protect yourself"

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Anton Corbjyn is a bit later than 40s - 70s onwards. Check out the cover of U2's The Joshua Tree - plenty of black and white, haunting and slightly grainy photos.

The shots he took of Ian Curtis and Joy Division are also deceptively simple

annell said...

I enjoyed your post. Thanks

Nes said...

OPW sounds like a great concept. It is new to me, but sounds wonderful! This postcard was beautiful; sometimes blacks and whites are the best postcards. The post itself was very interesting as well-can't wait for more!

Lydia said...

Abhilasha~ Your husband's mantra is an interesting one...too bad it cannot be sent back in a time machine to the Donner Party. :)

Pixies~ Don't know where my head was when I asked you the question about the decade, as you had already named the groups he photographed! I'll look at that cover as you suggested.

annell~ Thank you. And I enjoyed your visit!

Nes~ Makes me really happy that you like OPW and enjoyed this post. :) With some new readers appreciating it now I might see about the possibilities of doing a "file cabinet" so, if desired, all the past OPWs are available for viewing.



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