April 1846

The emigrants of 1846 prepared for their journey by buying provisions for the five-month journey across the plains and over the mountains. They loaded their wagons with the possessions they could carry, and sold the rest to start a new life in California. Then they drove their teams and wagons to the jumping off point for the westward migration, Independence, Missouri.


Sunday, April 5, 1846

On April 5, 1846, the Breen family and Patrick Dolan departed from Keokuk, Iowa. John Breen, 14 years old at the time of the voyage, recalled their departure 31 years later in a letter to the historian H.H. Bancroft:

We left our home in Iowa with three wagons drawn by seven yoke of oxen, - and some cows and horses. The horses were intended for the saddle, as at that time in Iowa, it was thought that horses were not suitable to draw wagons across the Rocky mountains as the country between the Missouri and California was called-

Two of the wagons were loaded with provisions & the third a light wagon carried the small children and some beds. We crossed the Missouri river at Glascow after a very tedious journey on account of high water as the spring of 1846 was exceeding wet, in that part of the country.

Saturday, April 11, 1846

At New Helvetia (Sutter’s Fort), the western end of the Trail, Lansford Hastings set out eastward. Hasting’s motives were questioned by John Sutter in a letter he wrote to Dr. John Marsh on on April 3 :

Capt. Hastings is leaving this place in a few days, to cross the mountains again, .... if he is going to the U.S. or not, or go, and meet the Emigrants, nobody knows for certain, perhaps nobody will see him here again, as his life will be in danger about his book, making out California a paradise, even some of the Emigrants in the Valley, threatened his life, and by his imprudent writing, he made himself the Country people to his ennemy I like to be hospitable, but I am very glad when Capt. Hastings is gone, ....

Sunday, April 12, 1846

According to William Graves, in his article Crossing the Plains in ’46 which was published in the Russian River Flag on April 26 and May 3, 10 and 17, 1877:

On the twelfth of April, 1846, my father, Franklin Ward Graves, strarted, with his family, consisting of my mother, and Sarah, May Ann, myself, Eleanor, Lavina, Nancy, Jonathan, Franklin and Elizabeth, the latter only about nine months old, from Marshall county, Illinois, to come to California. My oldest sister, Sarah, had been married to Jay Fosdick a few weeks before we started; he and a hired man by the name of John Snider completed our company from that place till we got to St. Joseph, Missouri, ... where we joined a large party, some bound for Oregon and some for California.

Tuesday, April 14, 1846

On April 14, 1846, the Reed and Donner families left their homes in Springfield, Illinois. A notice of their departure was printed in the Sangamo Journal, Springfield, Illinois, on April 23, 1846, under the headline Ho! For Oregon and California

The company which left here last week for California embraced 15 men, 8 women and 16 children. They had nine waggons. They were in good spirits, and we trust they will safely reach their anticipated home.

In her 1891 memoirs, Virginia Reed recalled the departure of the Donner-Reed company:

Never can I forget the morning when we bade farewell to kindred and friends. The Donners were there, having driven in the evening before with their families, so that we might get an early start. Grandma Keyes was carried out of the house and placed in the wagon on a large feather bed, propped up with pillows. Her sons implored her to remain and end her days with them, but she could not be separated from her only daughter. We were surrounded by loved ones, and there stood all my little schoolmates who had come to kiss me good-by. My father with tears in his eyes tried to smile as one friend after another grasped his hand in a last farewell. Mama was overcome with grief. At last the drivers cracked their whips, the oxen moved slowly forward and the long journey had begun. ... Many friends camped with us the first night out and my uncles traveled on for several days before bidding us a final farewell. It seemed to be strange to be riding in ox-teams, and we children were afraid of the oxen, thinking they could go wherever they pleased as they had no bridles.

Sunday, April 26, 1846

1846 Left Home th 26 of April

This is the first entry in the Miller-Reed Diary, a diary begun by Hiram Miller, friend of the Reeds. This may indicate that Miller did not leave Springfield with the Reeds and Donners on April 14, the start date given by Virginia Reed and confirmed by the Sangamo Journal article.

The Diary is controversial to some historians. The existence of the diary was not known until the estate of Martha (Patty) Reed donated it to Sutter’s Fort Historical Museum in 1945. Apparently neither Virginia nor Patty revealed the diary to McGlashan. Some of the entries appear to have been written after the events, which led both Stewart and King to question it. King went so far as to suggest that some entries may have been written after Reed arrived in California.