If you've been suffering the privations of the ice storm and resulting electrical grid collapse this past week, just remember that whatever your conditions, they were much better than those faced by the Donner Party in the winter of 1846. At least that's what I kept reminding myself as my family and I suffered through 7 days without power. After all we had a house, a fireplace, firewood, hot water, candles, batteries, flashlights, a radio, and plenty of warm dry clothes and blankets. (Oh, I forgot the car, gasoline, restaurants, the list goes on and on).
I had just finished this fascinating history last month. Before that, the only thing I knew about the Donner Party was that they ended up eating each other. Now I marvel at the fact that the majority of the group actually made it out of the mountains in one piece (no pun intended).
In fact, it seems like a whole different breed of Americans who were willing to walk alongside their ox carts (saved for carrying children and worldly possessions) for 2000 miles, starting in Independence, Missouri and ending in the warm paradise of California. The secret was in the timing. The trip must start when there was enough new grass for the cattle and must end before winter closed the steep passage through the Sierra Nevadas.
The group that is forever remembered as the Donner Party made a few fatal mistakes. They started their journey a little late in the spring. They lagged at the tail end of the large crowd making that year's trek. And, worst of all, they made the foolhardy decision to try to shave some time off their trip by following a treacherous shortcut through Utah that had never actually been traversed. 80 men, women and children ended up being trapped by a series of blizzards at the base of the pass.
This story of triumph is a lesson in the ability of the human spirit to transcend great odds. An interesting side note is that the woman did better than the men -- largely due to their determination to save their children (but also to the fact that they store more fat).