Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round...

We don’t really know, it’s not
easy to say
What happens tomorrow, what happens today
The wheel of fortune is a crazy thing
And it can make you cry and it can make you sing.

Recently finished Ordeal by Hunger by George Stewart, the harrowing tale of the fate of the Donner Party. I recently was speaking about it with NPS ranger Emily and another woman from San Francisco. All of us had read the book at some stage in our lives. The woman (excuse me as I do not remember her name, lets call her Ruth), Ruth, was in her late sixties and she said the story was all the rage when she was a kid. Emily is in her mid-twenties and she read it in high school. Having just finished the book, I began asking around, "have you heard of the Donner Party?" Every person I asked said in return, "Jeffery Dahmer?" Which is funny, because he is not it at all, yet Dahmer touches on the tabu at the heart of the story. Anyhow, Ruth says she thinks it's odd that there is a diner at Donner Pass and every year her family would eat there on their way to Idaho. It doesn't escape Ruth or I that our current Interstate 80 occupies much of the same route as the Donner Party trail. Interstate 80 cuts through the Wasatch Mountains, a path the Donner Party cut with brute force and determination. The exact same path that, one year later, Mormon pilgrims would follow to Salt Lake, Utah. Ranger Emily mentions that the artist Mahonri Young had included a depiction of the Donner Party in his most famous work, This Is The Place monument, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Young lived on Weir Farm here in Connecticut because he married Dorothy Weir, daughter of artist J.A. Weir -the namesake of this National Historic Site. Mahonri Young just happened to be the grandson of Brigham Young, the man who lead the Mormon pioneers to Salt Lake and proclaimed that this was the right place for their settlement in summer of 1847, just months after the close of the Donner Party tragedy.

So there the circles closes. One other thought about 1846-47: it was in this exact period of time that Henry David Thoreau was having his nature experience on the opposite coast, an experience of self-proclaimed self-sufficiency while under the spell of the morning star. Now there's a fictional work I'd like to see: Thoreau, aspiring Emersonian writer, journal-keeper, and member of the Donner Party.


  1. If I'm remembering correctly, didn't part of the Donner Party's troubles begin because they cut a long path around Mormon territory? Of course, being from Missouri I have a genetically based bias against Mormons and all their wicked works.

  2. You've been brainwashed well, Tim.

    No, actually the Donner-Reed party cut the path and Mormons followed a year later.

    But it was another man, who sold the Donner-Reed party on this route. What was his name? Hastings, yes thats it.


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