Chautauqua features Donner Party survivor |

Chautauqua features Donner Party survivor

Staff Reports

A Chautauqua of Donner Party survivor Virginia Reed Murphy will be performed by Cathryn Fairlee today at the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park.

The tale of the historic Donner Party is told by several survivors in Chautauqua-style by Fairlee, a story performer and researcher. Virginia Reed turned 13 while crossing the prairie in 1846, then was trapped in the Sierra Nevada with her family that winter. After the presentation, Virginia and then Cathryn, her portrayer, will answer questions from the audience.

Fairlee has been performing legends, epics, myths and history for over 30 years. Her master’s thesis explored the art of traditional storytelling in China, and she has served on the board of the National Storytelling Network and edits that organization’s magazine.

Epics are Fairlee’s favorite genre, and she sponsors an Epic Day for storytellers twice annually. When the 150th recognition of the Donner Party was held in 1997, she attended and met some of the descendants. She enjoys research, leading workshops and world travel. “Travel always leads to a good story,” she said.

“I’m excited that Carson Valley audiences will have the chance to hear such a talented storyteller,” said park curator, Mark Jensen. “As the topic of Cathryn’s Chautauqua suggests, adults can enjoy and learn from a well-told story, even more so than children.”

The free, hour-long, outdoor presentation begins at 6 p.m. Because of adult themes, the presentation is not recommended for children younger than 12. Seating will be available, but visitors are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs for greater comfort. Soft drinks and water will be available for purchase, or visitors can bring a picnic and their favorite beverage.

Other storytellers in this year’s storytelling series are Ken Gardner and Tony Argento teaming up for an evening of cowboy poetry on July 24; and Joel Ben Izzy on Aug. 27. Each is free and open to the public.

This and other storytellers appearing at the park in 2014 are all made possible by the sponsorship of Bently Enterprises, SoaringNV, Carson Valley Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Douglas County and the Frances C. and William P. Smallwood Foundation.

The park is located at 1450 Highway 88, about ¾ mile south of the Carson Valley Swim Center. The park’s full event schedule is at