It was around this time, early November in 1846, that the Donner Party became stuck here in Truckee and became one of the most well known tales in American history. As the story goes, the Donner Party, named so for it’s two leaders, Jacob and George Donner, started their journey in Springfield, Illinois on the widely used California Trail.
The trail brought them to Fort Bridger, Wyoming where the Donner Party sealed their fate. Instead of continuing on the established trail, the Donner Party took their chances on a new, and supposedly shorter, route to California. The Donner Party received word from the route’s creator, Lansford Hasting, that he was guiding another party to California but would mark the trail so they could easily follow.
The 89 members of the Donner Party headed on Hasting’s trail where they found a note telling them to stop and wait for Hastings. Hasting’s note had told the Donner Party that the path he had established was much more difficult than he had expected and to wait for him where they were so he could lead them on another trail. The Donner Party considered traveling back to Fort Bridger and traveling on the established trail, but knew that it would waste too much time. However, after Hastings hadn’t returned eight days after they found the note, the Donner Party sent a messenger up ahead to find Hasting. The messenger returned a few days later with instructions from Hastings to follow an entirely different trail.
This trail, to no surprise, was even more difficult and by the time the Donner Party arrived at the Great Salt Lake they were 18 days behind schedule. The delay had them crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains too late in the season and an unexpected early winter trapped the Donner Party right here in Truckee.