Despite the lack of credence often given them, the Native Americans had quite some impact on the story of the Donner Party. Luis and Salvadore, two Miwok Indians, were members of the group at one point.
The first recorded Native Americans the Donner Party encountered were in May, 1846. The Donner Reed party encounted Caw Indians keeping the ferry on the Caw river. Virginia Reed found them to be very friendly. Virginia was afriad of Indians, as her grandmother Sarah Keyes had told her stories about an aunt that was kidnapped by Indians during the days of the colonies.
When Sarah Keyes, died, the Reverend A. Cornwall of the Bryant party, which the Donner Party had joined with, conducted a service. Virginia and perhaps even her party, were afraid, "that the Indians would destroy her grave" as noted in her 1891 memiors.
In addition, Patty Reed, Virginia's little sister, is recorded as praying, "Dear God, watch over and protect dear Grandmother, and don't let the Indians dig her up." The grave was probably not ever disturbed.
By June 16, 1846, Tamsen Donner writes a letter mentioning, "We feel no fear of Indians." In that day, letter written on the trail were often taken by Indian scouts back to Missouri.
On June 18, the Graves family encountered Pawnee Indians. Near Scotts Bluff, a prominent trail marker, the Pawnee killed Edward Trimble, and stole a few cattle. The attack was probably promted by the party.
On July 12th, Virginia observes that the Sioux (she calls them the "cow," or Kaw) Indians are going to war with the Crows. She notices another tribe of Sioux, calling them the prettiest Indians.
James Reed claims (in his later written memoirs) that during early September, an Indian guided him in the direction of his missing cattle.
On September 29th, two Indians visit the camp of Eddy. After offering assistance, they are fed, but one allegedly steals one of Mr. Graves' shirts in the night.
Throughout early October, several property thefts are blamed on Indians.
On October 15th, over 20 cattle are killed by natives when the morning guard comes into camp. Here, many people were forced to cache their goods faced with the lack of livestock to haul them. Eddy's account to Thornton describes the Indians as looking on from nearby hills, laughing at the fate of the emigrants.
On this same day, Stanton (who had travelled ahead to Sutter's Fort) was given command of Luis and Salvadore, the Miwoks working for Johann Sutter.
Reinhardt and Spitzer claim that rogue Indians killed Mr. Wolfinger on the 18th of October.
On the 27th, Stanton, Luis and Salvadore meet up with the Party, along the Truckee River.