Today In History
On October 31, 1846, the ill-fated, hungry and eventually less-hungry Donner Party set up winter camp at Truckee Lake.
Sixty people set up a camp of a few cabins — none of which had, ya know, doors or sloped roofs. They also didn’t have a whole lot to eat (foreshadowing!) except their oxen, which were dying of starvation themselves.
Right now, you’re thinking “But they were by a lake and a river was nearby. A untouched, virgin lake and river high in the mountains. Bound to be full of fish!”
Yep, you’d be right.
“Oh, but winter came early, so it was probably frozen over. Another piece of bad luck for the bad luck Donner Party, right?”
NOPE. As a matter of fact, the lake wasn’t yet frozen over and was indeed action-packed with trout. It’s just that none of these nimrods knew how to fish for trout. Seriously, the account of the survivors note that no one knew how to fish “for trout,” not that they didn’t know how to fish at all. Fishing for trout, by the way, is not all that different from fishing for anything else. The skill set is basically the same. It requires some patience, to be sure, and there’s a bit of a learning curve, but apparently these dingbats either gave up too quickly or just decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. So instead they ate their mode of transportation and mice that wandered into the cabin and one time a bear. Early on in the wintering-over, some dude killed a bear, which I imagine is pretty tough (sure as hell tougher than say, fishing for trout, for example), but “he had no luck after that.” Maybe do what you did before and do that again with another bear.
We all know how this story ends: they eat each other and then never speak of it again, wrapping up the most bizarre western road trip of all time. Isabella Breen — who was one, because these geniuses who apparently didn’t know how to fish or build a cabin with a door brought an infant with them on a trip across the continent — was the last survivor and died in 1935.
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