History's adventurers faced hardship, sacrifice

As I sat down to write Monday morning I had no way of knowing where or how my four friends were doing on their Nevada10-in-10 Challenge. For a full week they have battled.

Rick Gunn, Karl Horeis, Jeremy Evans and K.M. Cannon have braved mountain and desert faced with technical problems and exhaustion knowing that with every challenge they come closer both to returning home to their comfortable beds and all the while closer to defeat.

With a support crew of two and the thoughts and prayers of us all they are limited only by themselves. By sheer exhaustion, dehydration and their own will to continue.

After a 57-mile day on the Tahoe Rim Trail they struck out Friday believing they would be victorious in their eight remaining challenges. By Saturday evening they had conquered challenges 3, 4 and 5. Early Sunday, they began Challenge 6, the 35-miles of the Ruby Crest Trail. As of early Sunday night there was still no word.

It struck me and my friend, Christy, on Sunday as we visited Alder Creek in the Donner State Park that the Donner Party, like the adventurers Friday, must have felt nearly victorious in reaching the Sierra Nevada. Having labored from Illinois on foot, by ox team and carving roads as they went. The party's struggles must have seemed nearly over as they neared the crest of the Sierra in November 1846.

On the map at the park, Sutter's Fort seemed so close compared to their home in Springfield, Ill., where the party left the morning of April 14, 1846, 37 strong and bound for California with the farewells of friends and loved ones.

It's impossible for us today to understand the hardships these families faced on the road to California. Impossible for us to understand how lucky we are to be here today.

Had George and Jacob Donner and others like them been content with their prosperous lives, it would be the people of Mexico making their homes in the Eagle and Carson valleys.

As I waited for word on my four adventurous friends I could only hope they fared well and life and limb are safe and sound.

We will see the product of their adventures in the stories and photos they share when they return. They will share their bumps and bruises and show us sights many of us will never see but for their efforts. They will have proven again that mind can triumph over matter.

But we who stayed behind, in the comfort of our own beds, well fed and watered will never truly know what it was like. It is the same for those families who stayed behind and waited for word as the Donners and those with them headed West.

It's a good time to remember that the sacrifices of the few often pave the way for the many.

Eighty-seven people were in the party at the Hastings Cutoff. Five people died before reaching the Sierra Nevada mountains: Luke Halloran, John Snyder, Hardkoop, Wolfinger and William Pike.

Of the members of the Donner Party who were trapped in the mountains, 45 survived to reach California.

Left behind were:

George and Tamsen Donner

Jacob and Elizabeth Donner

Isaac, Samuel and Lewis Donner and William Hook

Samuel Shoemaker

John Denton

Baylis Williams

Milford Elliot

James Smith

Patrick Dolan

Eleanor Eddy

Margaret and JamesEddy

Lavinia Jackson Murphy

Landrum and Lemuel Murphy

George Foster

Catherine Pike

Ada and Lewis Jr. Kesberg

Charles Berger

Augustus Spitzer

Joseph Reinhardt

Harriet McCutchens

Franklin and Elizabeth Graves

Franklin Graves Jr. and sister Elizabeth Graves

Jay Fosdick

Charles Stanton




On Monday afternoon, when I finally got word the four Nevada Appeal adventurers were fine -- just running a little behind schedule and having trouble getting to a phone -- I let out a big sigh of relief. Of course they were OK. The Donner Party is history, right?

Kelli Du Fresne, features editor of the Nevada Appeal, is a worry wart.


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