Donner Party Timeline
Timeline Description: The Donner Party (1846 to 1847) was a group of emigrants moving west to California who became trapped while crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Their route was supposed to be shorter and faster, but became deadly.

Date Event
April 14, 1846 Families Depart Springfield, Illinois

On April 14 or April 15, 1846, the families of George and Jacob Donner and James F. Reed left Springfield, Illinois. There were 33 people in the group, with nine wagons.
May 10, 1846 Stop in Independence, Missouri(May 10 to May 12, 1846)

The Donner and Reed families stopped in Independence, Missouri for two days in May. They made final arrangements and set off on May 12.
May 19, 1846 Join Large Wagon Train

Approximately 100 miles west of Independence, on Indian Creek, the Donner and Reed families joined a wagon train, headed by Colonel William H. Russell.
May 31, 1846 Complete the Crossing of Big Blue

By May 31, the group had successfully crossed the Big Blue River, around modern-day Marysville, Kansas. Several new families had joined the wagon train, and the first death had occurred.
June 18, 1846 William Russell Resigned

On June 18, Colonel William Russell resigned. The group was now led by William M. Boggs and was called the Boggs Company.
July 19, 1846 The Group Divided

On July 19, 1846, the Donner Party formed when some members of the Boggs Company decided to take the Hastings Cut-off rather than the usual route to California; they expected to meet a guide for this journey. George Donner is elected leader of the group. The remainder of the group plans to go through Fort Hall.
July 31, 1846 Left Fort Bridger

The Donner Party left Fort Bridger on July 31, 1846. There were now 74 people and 20 wagons in the party.
September 4, 1846 Rest after Crossing the Salt Desert(September 4 to 9, 1846)

After a difficult crossing of the Salt Desert, the group rested for several days. Some wagons were abandoned, and a few individuals went ahead to collect more supplies, as they realized food supplies were low.
October 15, 1846 Truckee River(October 15 to 30, 1846)

The group reached the Truckee River and rested at Truckee Meadows-today Reno, Nevada. More supplies arrived during this time, and snow began to fall.
November 5, 1846 Attempted to Cross the Sierra Mountains(November 5 to December 5, 1846)

Over the course of November, multiple attempts were made to cross the mountain pass, but all failed due to snow. The emigrants continued to hope for a break in the weather, camping in hastily constructed shelters. Two of the men had gone on ahead, but were unable to return, and believed the Donner Party had adequate livestock to feed themselves through the winter. Unfortunately, many cattle had been lost on the journey.
December 16, 1846 Snowshoers Set Our

On December 16, a group wearing snowshoes set out. Already weak from hunger, this group of 15 would try to cross to bring back help-they were called the "Forlorn Hope".
December 25, 1846 Blizzard(December 25 to December 29, 1846)

Between December 25 and December 29, 1846, a blizzard caught the "Forlorn Hope" group in the open. Several individuals died, and the survivors resorted to cannibalism.
January 4, 1847 Another Attempt(January 4 to January 8, 1847)

Four more of the Donner Party attempted to cross the mountain pass between January 4 and January 8. All turned back.
January 17, 1847 Survivors of "Forlorn Hope" Reached Help(January 17 to 19, 1847)

Between January 17 and January 19, the survivors of "Forlorn Hope" reached Johnson's Ranch. Five women and two men were still living; they had cannibalized seven of the eight dead. Two of the dead, both Native Americans, had been killed and eaten. The others had died from starvation, cold and exhaustion.
January 31, 1847 First Relief Left Sutter's Fort

As news of the Donner Party's plight spread, the First Relief of rescuers left Sutter's Fort. By February 5, they reached Johnson's Ranch and continued on.
February 18, 1847 First Relief Reached the Donner Party

The First Relief reached the lake where the Donner Party camped on February 18. The remaining survivors were starving, and eleven of the emigrants had died.
February 21, 1847 Second Relief Leaves Johnson's Ranch, First Relief Began to Transport Emigrants(February 21 to 26, 1847)

Between February 21 and 26, the Second Relief, led by James F. Reed, left Johnson's Ranch. Twenty-three of the emigrants were strong enough to travel with the First Relief across the pass; however, two returned to the camp and two died during the journey.
March 1, 1847 Second Relief Reached the Camps

The Second Relief arrived on March 1, 1847. They found survivors, weak but still alive, and significant evidence of cannibalism. The Second Relief left with 17 survivors on March 3. A blizzard struck on March 5 to 7, and two died. Most of the survivors, too weak to continue, returned to "Starved Camp". Three survivors, including two children, continue.
March 12, 1847 Third Relief Arrived

The Third Relief arrived on March 12. More of the survivors had died and been cannibalized. The Third Relief departed on March 14. Again, several were left behind, including George, Tamzene, and Samuel Donner, Levinah Murphy and Louis Keseberg.
April 17, 1847 Fourth Relief Arrived

The Fourth Relief finally arrived on April 17, 1847. Only Louis Keseberg was alive. He reached Sutter's Fort on April 29, 1847.
June 22, 1847 General Stephen W. Kearny Arrived at Camp

General Kearny and his troops arrived at the camp and were horrified. They gathered the cannibalized remains into the remaining cabin and burned the cabin and remains.