- Ann T. Keene
Donner Party, a group of pioneers, earned its legendary name as the result of a notorious trek to California in 1846–1847. The party, which initially numbered thirty-two men, women, and children, assembled in Springfield, Illinois, in early April 1846 to begin the 2,500-mile journey westward. It comprised the families and servants of James Frazier Reed, the initial organizer of the group, and George and Jacob Donner; both the Donner men and Reed had settled in Illinois some years earlier and had made their fortunes, the Donners as farmers and Reed as a businessman. But the prevalence of sickness, including tuberculosis, cholera, and malaria, coupled with financial panic in the East in the early 1840s had fueled the desire of many, including the Donners and the Reeds, to move farther west, joining an exodus across the Mississippi River that would amount to more than half a million by the end of the decade....