Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Donner Party Legacy

On this date in 1922, 78-year-old Eliza Poor Houghton succumbed to heart disease. Although she led a distinguished life as a published author and wife of California Congressman, Sherman Otis Houghton, she is probably best remembered for the tragic winter she lived through, though she was only three years old at the time.

She was born Eliza Poor Donner to George and Tamzene Donner in March of 1843. At the time, thousands of families were immigrating to the west, spurned on by hard financial times and outbreaks of cholera and malaria. The Donner family was no exception and on April 14, 1846, the families of Donner and his two brothers left Springfield, Illinois. As the group moved west, they joined up with other trains, their numbers grew, and Eliza's father was elected captain of what is known today as the Donner Party. By the time they hit the Sierra Nevada in October, the weather blocked their path and they were forced to camp with little food. By the time it was all over, only 48 of the original 87 pioneers were left and many of them had resulted to cannibalism in order to survive.

Eliza, her sister, and some cousins were a few of the survivors, but her parents were not so lucky. Eliza would eventually become known as one the most famous of all of the survivors through her efforts to defend her family name. After her death, she was buried in the historic Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, California in her husband's plot, which is marked only by his name. However, her private accounts (aided greatly by the memories of her sister and surviving cousins) of that fatal winter helped provide the foundation for future Donner Party studies.

Pay a visit to Eliza Poor Houghton (Donner)'s grave at Angelus-Rosedale.

-Casey H.

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