The Donner Party by Daniel Lewis
Epilogue: Journey's End


The Year of 1846
The Story: Part I
Part II: The Journey
Part III: Snowbound
Part IV: Eating of the Dead
Epilogue: Journey's End
General Roster
Names for Research
Route of the Donner Party
Forensics of the Donner Party
Forensics II
The Donner Party and Native Americans
Religion of the Donner Party
Links and Sources
Contact Me


Lewis Keseberg was known as a tall, violent, and mysterious man. Despite the fact he was known to beat his wife, he deeply cared for his family, and many of Keseberg's acts of necessity have been used to unfairly vilify him. Afterwards, Keseberg was brought before Alcalde John Sinclair of Sacramento, charged with the murders of Mr. Wolfinger, George Foster, Samuel Donner, Lavinah Murphy, George and Tamzene Donner, though he was not convicted for lack of evidence. He lost both of his young children during the winter, but later had other daughters with his wife, Phillipine, whom he also lost with all but two of his daughters. In Sacramento, Keseberg's boarding house and brewery were at first succesful, but went out of business. He died in 1895, an unhappy and economically burdened old man. Keseberg's controversial effect on the story of the Donner Party has always been rather fascinating among Donner Party historians.

James Reed and his men were forced to abandon the Breens and Graves at Starved Camp. The party had become too weak to leave. James Reed took his children and left out of necessity, leaving the people he was meant to rescue. If he had not, perhaps more lives would have been lost.

In Sacramento, William Eddy and William Foster still had family at the lake. The first Relief had revealed to Eddy his wife and one child had died, but he wasn't sure if the account was accurate. In any case, that meant at least one child was still alive when the First Relief had reached the lake. William Foster still had his mother in-law Lavinah Murphy and brother in-law Simon Murphy at the cabin, and his only son, George Foster. Eddy and Foster put aside their differences to organize a Third Relief.

At Alder Creek, a man from the Second Relief named Nicholas Clark had remained with the Donners to help them, though he knew he would be subjected to extreme cold and starvation. With him were George and Tamzene Donner, one French teamster named Jean-Baptiste Trudeau, (bap-teest true-dough) the widowed Elizabeth Donner and her young sons Isaac and Samuel. George's remaining children, Frances, Georgia and Eliza, with Franklin Graves Jr., were at the Lake camp with Lewis Keseberg and Mrs. Murphy, who also cared for George Foster and William Eddy.

When Eddy and Foster reached the lake, they were horrified. Their two sons had just died before they reached the lake. When they came to the Murphy/Eddy cabin, the bodies of Eleanor, Margaret and James Eddy, George Foster, and those of others were all in plain site, mutilated for the sake of food. The Murphys told Foster that Keseberg had taken his son George to bed one night, and killed him while he slept. Keseberg then dried the body and ate it. William Eddy's son James died from hunger, but his gaunt body provided sustenance for others. Though Lewis Keseberg was not the only person who practiced cannibalism there, Eddy and Foster despised Keseberg's easiness in discussing it, and Eddy was outraged to see the violated corpses of his wife and children. Keseberg was weak and gaunt from famine, so Eddy "took pity on him" but threatened to kill him in California.

Eddy, Foster and the Third Relief removed George Donner's three children that were staying with Mrs. Murphy, as well as Elizabeth and Tamzene Donner, Elizabeth's son Issac, Mrs. Murphy's son Simon, the one remaining Graves child, and Jean-Baptiste Trudeau, the teamster of the Donners. Elizabeth's son Samuel was left behind, who was sick, and no one was left to carry him out of the mountains. George Donner, Lavinah Murphy and Lewis Keseberg were too sick to leave, but Foster promised to return for his mother in-law Mrs. Murphy.

As the group was ready to leave from the Lake Camp, Tamzene became possessed by the thoughts she had left her husband all alone at Alder Creek. Though he almost certainly die, she thought of his suffering and the burden of being alone and helpless. She told the Third Relief to take care of her sister Elizabeth and her three daughters, and Tamzene set out, alone, to cross eight miles of dangerous, snowed mountains to return to her husband.

George Donner was surely relieved to see his wife again. She nursed him in his last hours, and cached several hundred dollars in coins that her family had.

Elizabeth Donner, her son Isaac, and Franklin Graves Jr. died with the Third relief, leaving a second family orphaned, the Jacob Donners.

At Alder Creek, Samuel Donner died a few hours after the Third Relief left the Lake. Lavinah Murphy died about a few after the four remaining, George and Tamzene Donner, Mrs. Murphy and Keseberg, were left behind.

On the eve of March 29, 1847, George Donner died. Tamzene went a little mad, and ate her husband's body. In her emotional strife, she ran away from Alder Creek, leaving behind the bodies of George and Samuel, as well as a great amount of money, and left for the Lake Cabin, to see if anyone was still alive there. On the journey, she fell into a stream, and her clothing froze, and Mrs. Donner caught fever.

She only found Lewis Keseberg at the Murphy cabin. She told him that she had to see her children in California, and was willing to cross the mountains on foot if necessary. She told him where she hid her money, and told him to give it to her children if she died. Keseberg, realizing how sick she was, had Tamzene lie down and slept at least for the night.

Meanwhile, William Foster and one of California's great pioneers, William O'Fallon, led the final party to Truckee Lake, the Fourth relief. Though she would likely be dead, Foster had an obligation to find his mother in-law. No one cared so much about Lewis Keseberg or the Donners, but the Rescue Party did know that many who had died or dwelled at Alder Creek had left behind a large amount of money and jewelry, and they were granted salvage rights by John Sinclair, the alcalde.

When the rescue party reached the lake, they only found Lewis Keseberg, and a multitude of mutilated bodies. Four people had died while they were gone, and Foster likely told the fourth relief of his thoughts of Keseberg and the alleged tale of his son's murder.

Mrs. Donner had been relatively healthy when the Third Relief left her, so they assumed Keseberg killed her for food and her property/money. Keseberg said Mrs. Donner became suddenly sick during the night at his cabin, and died. Both are possible, but it is more likely she died from fever.

Keseberg was charged with six murders, including the four at the lake with him, George Foster, and Mr. Wolfinger. He reunited with his wife and settled in Sacramento.

The Reeds established a nice home in the area outside what would become San Francisco. Margaret Reed lived in relative peace and happiness until she died in poor health, several years later. She never again had suffered her migraines in California. Virginia kept her promise to become a Catholic.

William Eddy remarried and had children in Petaluma, California. He never did see Keseberg again after the Third Relief.

The Breens built a farm, and lived in peace.

The Donner children had it rough. Some of the younger Donner children were adopted by various families. The older girls, as young as 14, married young Californians for financial support.

The Graves suffered a similar fate as the Donners. The more fortunate were adopted, while some had to survive without any home or family of their own. Sarah and Mary remarried, and tried to support and care their younger siblings when they could.

The various families of the Donner Party almost never saw each other after they were rescued. It is easy to understand why. They had become rivals during their ordeal, and hadn't shared a pleasant experience. Some of the survivors lived as unhappy recluses, while some like William and Mary Graves, Virginia Reed, and Eliza Donner published accounts describing their ordeal. Virginia Reed was even featured in a magazine in 1891.

Eventually, the cabins, shelters and bodies left behind at Alder Creek and Truckee Lake were erased by time. The chilling reminders of the Donner Party encouraged settlers to speed along the trail for years to come, until railroads put an official end to the Oregon and California Trail. Eventually, the land and people destroyed all of what was visibly left. The little archeological evidence of the Donner Party is now buried beneath several layers of earth.

In the beginning of the 20th century, Virginia Reed, then an old woman, saw the state of California erect a monument dedicated to the Donner Party over the site that had been the Breen Cabin. The Murphy cabin was long gone, but the rock that served as a wall remained, and a plague was placed on it to remember those who died during the winter. The Reed/Graves cabin had been destroyed, and the site is now covered by the current highway.

Now there is a State Memorial Park where the Donner Party suffered. A museum commemorates the history of the Donner Party, and monuments and trails show various areas the Donner Party lived in during the winter.