Donner Decision: Which is worse – being burnt to death or frozen to death?


by Jack Speer Williams


She knew it was a bizarre question, perhaps a crazed thought; but it had been bothering her ever since George had made his decision – a decision for himself, her, and their three young girls.

One hot and sultry day last summer, she thought she’d prefer freezing to death. Most of the following winter she’d have chosen burning to death.

Must it be one or the other? she asked herself, when she heard, “Are you alright, Tamsen? You look mighty peaked.”

“I’m cold, George.”

“Good gracious, Honey! Our fireplace must have this room approaching a hundred degrees.”

“Don’t mind me, George. What are you learning from Mr. Hasting’s book?”

“This Hastings Cutoff to California sounds pretty good. It knocks a month off the trip and saves four hundred miles.”

“But George … do we really want … oh, never mind. I’ll be all right.” But she wasn’t all right. She was thinking about her mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and friends she would never see again.

Tamsen Donner was happy on their large and prosperous farm in Illinois and had no desire to travel for months in some kind of covered wagon to California.

But the year was 1846, before easy divorces and emasculated husbands. Mrs. George Donner would put on a happy face and accompany her wild husband to the Wild West and the unknowns of California.

But why are men so restless? she often pondered. Pushing the thought aside, Mrs. Donner again reminded herself that women who are in competition with their husbands ensure defeat not only of husbands, but of themselves – and usually of their marriages.

But, without women of Mrs. Donner’s caliber, the American West, nor East, would have ever been won.

Putting aside her fears of stampeding buffalos and rampaging Indians raping her girls and scalping her, Mrs. Donner knew she could not allow her fearful trepidations to influence her children. She would even lie and tell their young girls how exciting the trip would be.

But still, the whole winter she had cold hands and feet and a foreboding she could not shake.

Tamsen did, however, put her foot down on one demand: “We must take plenty of money,” while thinking … I must draw the line somewhere or I’ll regret it if I don’t.

By selling everything she could, Mrs. Donner gathered about ten thousand dollars, which today would have a value of around a quarter of a million dollars.

The money gave Mrs. Donner a new concern: how can we safely hide so much money on a long and dangerous trip? And she fretted on other things. We must pack pistols, rifles, bullets, about six months’ worth of food for five people, clothing, bedding, sheets, including two or three blankets or comforters for each of our girls, George, and me.

And what about the many farm tools needed to build a new life? The horses alone required all kinds of equipment: bits, saddles, bridles, halters, stirrups. Was George adequately taking care to bring all we would need? Can we even carry all that we will need?

Then she had the terrible thought: there’ll be no stores … or damn few … where we’re going. I need to double everything we take with us.

In preparation for the migration, the only pleasure she had were what was being called Friendship Quilts. Ladies, both family and friends, would get together and make a friendship quilt, a quilt that would always remind the departing Tamsen of her friends and family back home. Friends I’ll never see again, she thought, wiping her eyes.

“Wait a minute,” she said half aloud to herself. “I know what I’ll do.”

Later that night, Mrs. Donner brought her family together and told them, “This is the quilt the ladies made for me … and guess what … I sewed all our money into it. No thief will suspect that our savings is in it.”

“Momma, we could wrap your tea set in it and put it in your big old hope chest.”

“Yes, Sweetheart,” the mother said sweetly, trying to smile, thinking of all the other things she had to do in preparation for their ever dangerous odyssey.

On the trip Tamsen knew she would have to do all the cooking, sewing, mending, and child care. What she did not anticipate was being pressed into such tasks as gathering buffalo chips or wood for evening fires, pitching tents, and driving their livestock.

If the girls and Mrs. Donner knew that evening, in front of their comfortable fire, that they would end up walking as much as riding to California, one must wonder if they would have so easily and cheerfully acquiesced to the total transmigration of their bodies and souls halfway across the mighty North American continent.

Tamsen’s biggest shock, however, would come when she was handed a rifle and told to shoot the horses ridden by hostile Indians on a raid – Indians who had surrounded their caravan of roughly circled covered wagons.

Would many of our pioneers have gone west if they had known it would later be estimated that there was an average of one grave for every eighty yards between the Missouri River and the Willamette Valley in Oregon?

Indians were not the only threat to life and limb. Stock, and even the oxen pulling the wagons, could be startled into sudden stampedes. Rivers had to be forded. Serious accidents were frequent, with medical supplies and skilled assistance almost nonexistent.

Then there were deadly diseases, such as cholera, that haunted the wagon trains. Later it was estimated that there were twenty thousand deaths on the Oregon Trail:* one out of every seventeen pioneers was lost en route.

*The Portland (Oregon) Community College has designated April as White History Month, but with a anti-White theme ofTo preserve any Whiteness is to preserve racial injustice.

There will be no mention of the fact that the state of Oregon, the city of Portland, and the Portland City College were settled, built, and maintained by White pioneers, builders, and taxpayers.

And what were the White pioneers going to once they arrived in California or Oregon? Certainly that would not be a time or place to slowly recover from the months of hardships across the continent.

After putting down stakes, their real work would begin, still living in their wagons, or tents, or crude lean-tos, while building log cabins, or sod houses.

Food scarcity would be a constant concern, so a farm had to be quickly developed. These would be hard, lonely years for women, men, and children of all ages.

American men accomplished great feats in the opening of the West; but the ensuing great migration was a family affair, with much of the burden falling on the shoulders of women.

Men may have won the West, but they never could have done it without their women and families.

With a plow on the tailboard of their heavily loaded wagon, George Donner got his oxen moving, picking up other pioneer wagons as they all advanced westward in April of 1846.

By the time they reached the prairies on their way to Fort Laramie, in what is now the state of Wyoming, the tired pioneers, usually called the Donner Party consisted of eighty-nine worn-out emigrants with twenty wagons.

Across the tall-grass, mixed-grass, and short-grass prairies, they slowly made their way, children, teens, and adults learning how to contribute to the ever forward motion of all the families.

One day was much like another on the prairies, each day ending at ten o’clock, with only the sentinels awake. The next day began at four in the morning with their cattle roundup.

“Step on it, boys,” yelled George Donner. “We’ve got to be on our way if we’re going to make fifteen miles today.”

The monotony of the long, hot, and dusty days was occasionally broken by violent thunderstorms.

At times, thunder came when there was no rain in sight.

“George, that sounds like thunder, but it doesn’t look like rain.”

“I don’t believe its thunder … I wonder if it could be buffalo headed our way.”

All the wagon drivers seemed to catch on as soon as George did. Immediately, they began using their whips, lashing the backs of their oxen – often creating a stampede of their own, causing yet another later roundup of their cattle.

As the stampede narrowly passed them by, some of the young men and older boys on horseback took off after the buffalo, determined to shoot one or two of them.

The successful hunters were always honored as heroes. Food, especially meat, was highly valued on the trail.

Flooded rivers were difficult and dangerous to cross. Cattle and oxen had to be herded across by men on horseback. Covered wagons were often converted to boats and pulled across rivers by guidelines. Merely getting to Fort Laramie was a major feat.

Wagon trains bound for California, Oregon, and Utah used Fort Laramie as a rest stop and general store.

If I can hold on until we get to Fort Laramie, I’ll be all right, Mrs. Donner told herself. Her back and legs were in constant pain, with a dark foreboding accenting her physical condition.

“At Fort Laramie, I’ll try to do some knitting. That has always calmed my nerves,” Tamsen told George.

It was at Fort Laramie that George Donner got some advice from an old mountain man about the Hastings Cutoff.

“It may be shorter, but it’s doggone dangerous. Take the regular trails that are well marked and safe.”

Without looking at the mountain man, George Donner continued to squat and poke at his campfire. Finally he said, “I think it’s foolish to take those old ways. I don’t think we’ll go far wrong with the cutoff.”

The old man sadly smiled and shook his head while saying, “Don’t ever say I didn’t warn ye. If-ing you make it over the deserts, you’ll be dang lucky. But ye’ll be even luckier if you cross the Sierras before the winter snows block them passes.”

George Donner’s momentous decision did not come until August: Take the proven trail or try the Hastings Cutoff?

George Donner made the second worst decision of his life: He took the highly touted Hastings Cutoff.

A few days later, the Donner party reached the desolate Weber Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains in what is now known as Utah. There, they met the first of what would be a series of major setbacks. In every direction large trees blocked their way.

Using axes, sweaty men, teens, and boys took turns chopping down trees, with swear words ringing in the forest. With busted blisters and sore backs the males of the party had difficulty sleeping that night.

George Donner was unable to sleep for a different reason.

“What’s wrong, Sweetheart?” Tamsen asked.

“We broke two axe handles today.”

Tamsen knew how valuable axes would be on the rest of the migration and later in clearing land for farming. And she knew that axe handles would be almost impossible to replace in the wilderness, but she was also a wise women. She knew that to berate her husband now could damage his self-confidence. What George desperately needed was her encouragement and support.

“It’s not your fault, George. You are a man among men … and … I know you’ll get us out of this.”

Cutting down trees was one thing, but unhooking the oxen from the wagons and tying them to the stumps so the stumps could be pulled up by their roots and hauled away was another time-consuming ordeal – all devouring precious energy, as food and water supplies dwindled.

Some ridges were so steep the oxen could not gain footing, so all the men and boys had to pull each wagon up and over the inclines.

What promised to be a time saver had thus far cost the Donner party three weeks to cover a mere thirty-six miles.

Finally toward the end of August, the beleaguered pioneers came to the Great Salt Lake basin.

On a hill overlooking the wide vista, Tamsen Donner exclaimed to George, “Who in the world … who could image anything so barren? We might as well be on the moon.”

What Mr. Donner did not want to tell Mrs. Donner was they had not yet seen the worst of it. A massive desert lay beyond, with little drinking water left to cope with it.

Slowly the dehydrated teams of oxen pulled the heavy wagons across the blazing sands with what little strength they had left.

After three days in the desert, the children began crying. “Mama, I’m so thirsty I can’t swallow.”

“Suck this sugar lump, dear. We’ll find water tomorrow … when the desert ends.”

But the desert did not end the next day, nor the next. Some of the cattle, horses, and oxen lay down to die.

Several wagons, with all the precious possessions they carried, had to be abandoned in the desert. Owners of such abandoned wagons prevailed on operational wagon drivers to take some of the most valuable possessions. But resigned to their fate, the unlucky ones trudged toward the new world, owning little more than the clothes and shoes they wore and what little they could carry.

“Bring your coats, gloves, and extra socks,” George Donner yelled to those forced to walk. “It’s gonna be cold.”

Nonsensically, a lady walking away from her downed wagon held up a picture, saying, “It’s the only drawing of my mother I have, and I’ll not lose it.”

Late the next day a cry was heard.

Look! There’s Pilot Peak. We’ll find water there.

Six days later, the Donner party did find water, saving not only human lives, but those of some of their horses and oxen.

With a supply of water, George Donner faced the party’s next major problem, a lack of food.

Over and over in George’s mind rang the words of the Donner children.

Daddy, I can’t eat any more of these thistle stalks.

Charles Stanton, perhaps the most capable pioneer of the party, located two of the strongest horses left, and suggested that he and another man ride ahead to California for food and supplies.

It was after Stanton’s departure that the Donner party was attacked by Indians on horseback. The pioneers were short on water and food, but not bullets, which enabled them to drive off the Indians, leaving three dead horses – no thanks to Tamsen Donner.

Tamsen could not bring herself to shoot any horses and felt a bit guilty eating any of the horse flesh the Indians left.

By the middle of October, the Donner party came to the Truckee River in what is now the state of Nevada. There they saw the first trees they had seen in five hundred miles.

The spirit of the pioneers picked up considerably, as they knew their long journey would end once they crossed the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Within fifty miles of the Sierras, they met the faithful Charles Stanton, who was returning from California with food and supplies.

“The closest pass is straight ahead of us. But we must get through it before the snow falls,” Stanton warned.

Group morale was at its highest and got even higher the further they drove into the mountains.

Then on the second day of November, Donner sent Stanton and two others ahead to cut a trail to the pass.

On Stanton’s return he reported to the rest of the party. “It’s only three miles to the pass. Let’s cross it tonight. Once we’re over it, we’ll be safe.”

“No, we need to rest tonight. We can cross it tomorrow. Everyone knows there’s no danger of snow until mid-November,” said Donner, with general agreement from the tired group.

But the snows came early to the Sierras in 1846. That night it snowed heavily, blocking the pass and trapping the Donner party in the mountains for the entire winter – a winter that would be about four to five months long in the mountains.

That Donner decision was the worst of George’s life, one that would soon cost the party the lives of humans and animals.

The pioneers had no choice but to make camp until the spring when enough snow had melted in their chosen mountain pass.

Their food supplies ran so low they were forced to kill and eat all of their oxen, cattle, and horses.

It was during this period that some people have speculated that the party resorted to cannibalism, which might be more supposition than fact. In any case, they eventually had to boil down the hides of their dead oxen, cattle, and horses.

In December, Charles Stanton led seventeen of the strongest emigrants, on foot, into the pass.

Stanton urged the families onward, saying, “We must go as fast as possible. Our food won’t last a week.”

At mid trip, or thereabouts, another heavy snowstorm hit. With no shelter to protect them, mothers fell into the snow, pulling their children to them. Fathers lay on top of both children and mothers, shielding them from wind and sleet. For two days and two nights, these huddles of humanity were graphic depictions of how important both mothers and fathers were and are to the well-being of children.

America was settled by brave, stalwart families, headed by fathers. And if our country is to survive, it will do so by brave, stalwart families led by fathers, even with their sometimes erroneous decisions.

Finally, Charles Stanton became too weak to go on.

“Go ahead, I’ll rest here and catch up with you.”

But, Charles Stanton, the hero of the Donner party, died there in the snow.

Eight other people died on the way.

After thirty-three days, the survivors reached California.

“There are lots of others behind us in the mountains. We must get help to them,” the half-alive pioneers told the rescuing Californians.

Back in the mountains, many had died either from the cold or starvation.

The first party of rescuers arrived in February. They took twenty-four people out.

Tamsen Donner had approached one of the rescuers, a young man who she thought was honest and capable.

“There’s ten thousand dollars in this quilt. Twenty-five hundred for you if you take my girls out and raise them right. Then twenty-five hundred to each girl when she reaches eighteen years of age.”

“Ma’am, I’ll get ‘em out and raise them right … or … die trying. But what about you?”

“No, I cannot leave my husband. You see he’s so sick he’s dying.”

At over 7,000 feet, with an annual snowfall of thirty-four feet, Tamsen lay by her husband’s side. No one knows whose heart stopped beating first, George’s or Tamsen’s.

Presumably, it was George Donner who died first, as he was already dying.

If that was indeed the case, then Tamsen Donner died without human contact, alone, starving, and freezing to death – the one way of dying she feared the most.

May God, in his mercy, bless Tamsen Donner forevermore.

Of the eighty-nine men, women, and children in the Donner party, only forty-seven survived to carry on the pioneer spirit that made the United States of America the greatest country in recorded history.

The Sierra Nevada mountain pass chosen by the Donner pioneers, but never traversed by George or Tamsen, was later named the Donner Summit. Today, Interstate 80 crosses that lofty Nevada-California mountain pass at an elevation of 7,239 feet.

Our celebration of national heroes and family units has purposely been sabotaged!

Covert elements in America have long been busy trying to besmirch the very names and reputations of our national heroes. They want the Donner name and the words American pioneers to be associated with the practice of cannibalism.

Whether or not parts of the Donner party degenerated into cannibalism while dying in the Sierra Nevada mountains is not nearly as important as Americans keeping faith with their historical heroes who are part of the fabric that made the United States of America unique in world history. Hold fast to our American lore of heroes.

We live in a free will universe wherein those of evil intent are allowed to exercise their will as long as it is not abrogated by those with positive free will.

But how can those with positive objectives override evil endeavors when those negative actions are not recognized for what they really are – demonic?

If people do not know that the barely edible, food-like substances they eat have no counterpart in nature, they will offer no objection by the exercise of their free will. They will continue to make themselves sick, only to be made sicker by today’s corrupted medical establishment – all amounting to a further loss of their individual exercise of positive free will.

Knowledge is the key to life and to the application of positive free will. The first tenet in the utilization of positive free will is the understanding that our world is controlled by a malevolent force which intends to sicken us all in a perpetual state of total subservient ignorance, with no free will at all.

Thus, we have mandatory government schools that indoctrinate rather than educate, a controlled media that propagandizes rather than informs, and high echelons of governments made up of psychopathic killers. The horrible but simple fact of life is that the governments of our world have been overrun with madmen.

These insane psychopaths have been purposely inserted into positions of authority by the secret puppet masters who are hidden from the public’s view.

None of us would recognize the names of the real masters of earth.

Cohesive family units, complete with mothers and fathers, are the building blocks of well-ordered, prosperous societies, which are the foundations of all caring, responsive, and responsible governments. Nations not built of independently functioning family units will have tyrannical governments. Families dependent on government welfare are major stepping-stones toward despotism.

For at least the last five decades the federal government and effectively all state governments have been actively implementing the Marxist Manifesto, the first goal of which is meant to do away with the natural human family and replace it with only a mother – then, only the state. These acts of madness have already been slyly and insidiously implemented amongst most Black American families.

Black children without fathers now number sixty-seven percent; Hispanic single parent homes number forty-two percent, while American White single parent homes number twenty-five percent.

Unfortunately all of the above figures continue to rise, as do the percentages of emasculated husbands and radically feminized wives in America.

To our great national detriment there has been an engineered epidemic of fatherlessness across America, with Hollywood playing its part.

When I was a boy, a father’s wisdom was often portrayed in television shows such as Father Knows Best.

Then the cultural Marxists, who owned and controlled Hollywood, were given their marching orders: Portray fathers and men as fools.

And suddenly, it was humorous and sheik to hear a woman say, “I have three children I must care for … and … I’m married to one of them.”

In other words, male bashing became fashionable. From sitcoms to TV ads, the roles of husbands and fathers have increasingly been of men playing the incompetent buffoon. In the mass media there is little that is noble or respectful about husbands or even fatherhood.

But the causes for fatherlessness have been many: the CIA’s long practice of importing street drugs; our corrupted family courts; the widespread major media that demonizes White men and fathers; and radical feminism.

Radical feminism has become the main means of destroying our long tradition of mother and father headed families.

The husband-wife-child dynamic was vitally important to survival in prior centuries. In modern times, however, marriages, husbands, and complete families have lost their luster.

Feminism is a Marxist construct against the over-hyped societal ill called patriarchy.

Feminism has not empowered women, but rather made them into victims.

Victims are never causative. Once a woman claims to be a victim, she is treated as an object, not as a capable, spiritual being.

Feminism has done womankind, and continues to do womankind, a great disservice. If feminism actually helped women, the power structure would not allow it.

Feminism is a covert Marist scheme to destroy the human family. As Karen Straughan has stated, “Feminism is nothing more than Marxism in panties.”

I would say, Feminism is merely Karl Marx in drag.

Today, we have within America those at war with the greater good of us all. This active force is sympathetic to or directly working for some dark hidden agenda of an alien force.

The whiny voices of these agent provocateurs are loud, obnoxious, and repetitive. Names such as Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Eric Fromm, and Wilheim Reich come to mind.

Political action groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League are fifth column enemies within America but both have been granted the status of tax-free 501(c)(3) organizations.

The above individuals and groups are given carte blanche to spread their poison over all national networks by those who own and control the major media. And much of their propaganda is directed toward the demeaning of men – especially White fathers – as the key to destroying their ultimate target of the family unit. It seems that on a regular basis, the major media exposes us to the domestic violence of wife beating.

And while everyone (I would assume everyone) knows how crucial mothers are to the well-being of children, few of us (I would assume few of us) know how critical fathers are to the healthy development of children.

The great researcher and speaker Stefan Molyneux has come up with some appalling statistics concerning the effects of fatherless homes in the United States …

90% of runaway children, 80% of male rapists, 63% of youth suicides, 71% of pregnant teenagers, 90% of adolescent arsonists, 71% of high school dropouts, 75% of children in drug abuse centers, and 85% of imprisoned youths were reared in fatherless homes.

Fatherless children were also found to be twice as likely to drop out of high school and end up in jail as children who grew up with fathers.

Children with involved fathers are 40% less likely to repeat a grade in school and 70% less likely to drop out of high school.

There is not a more predictable negative outcome for a child reared in a broken home than a world of pure disaster for them.

Certainly our enemies know this. So is it any wonder why the Neocons (who control our federal government), or the Southern Poverty Law Center (that tries to control our national discourse), or the cultural Marxists* (who control our media) have for so long covertly pushed for fatherless homes?

  • The backstory of cultural Marxism began as the Frankfurt School in Germany, after WW I. The Germans, recognizing the dangers of Marxism in any form, forced the Marxists out of the country in 1933.
  • Soon, however, the cultural Marxists received a friendly welcome at New York’s Columbia University, where they have prospered ever since.

Was it Aristotle who said that eliminating fathers from homes is a fundamental tool of tyrants?

But like all things tightly wrapped in the rusty barbed-wire embrace of the American government, all forms of cultural Marxism are to be recognized for the underhanded attacks they are on decent, freedom-loving citizens of America.

Additionally, the cultural Marxists have placed American traditions and heritage in their gun sights. No longer are we to revere the wisdom of our founding fathers, ostensibly because some of them owned Black slaves. But realize, we have never been told that American slavery was an institution launched and perpetuated by the same dark powers that today are organizing, funding, controlling, and promoting the deadly and systemic cancer of cultural Marxism.

Our early Western pioneers are true American heroes, not to be tainted with words such as cannibalism just because a faction of the Donner Party may have been guilty of it.

Now in summation, ask yourself: how many of today’s emasculated men, deprived of their traditional manly roles as fathers and husbands, could survive on the old Oregon Trail?

How many of our modern-day, Marxist–influenced feminists would have even agreed to becoming a real heroine by joining our early pioneer women?

The answers to the above questions cause me to fear for America and for my fellow Americans.

The difference between what made America great and what has brought her down is the difference between the desire for freedom and the desire for free stuff. Some of us want freedom. Most of us want free stuff, taken from others at the cost of freedom for all of us.

Our early pioneers invested their life’s savings, their body’s sweat and blood, and all their hopes on the freedom to carve out a better, more prosperous life for themselves and their children, without the suppressive regulations and taxes of government.

Governments represent the common denominator of all men, which is far lower ethically than that of any single noble-minded and enlightened soul.

Our current political system has no accountability and the system will not fix itself.

But know, non-compliance with US governmental edicts often means compliance with our conscience, which is a far better, more ethical determiner of our positive behavior than anything any government will ever issue or demand.

Our Isthmus of Opportunity is but a narrow strip of potential, bordered on both sides by danger and connecting the two larger bodies: one of absolute, compliant ignorance, and the other of attained enlightenment.

And as ignorance endangers, while knowledge protects, it is the worst of times for the unenlightened, but the best of times for the knowledgeable and spiritually aware to ascend to a more just plain of existence.

But remember …


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