The Fourth Relief left Johnson's Ranch and reached the Lake, where they found the last survivor, Lewis Keseburg, and brought him in.
The Diary entries below are purportedly from a journal written by the leader of the Fourth Relief, Willam Fallon. Fallon, known as "Le Gros" or "Big" had been trapping in the Rockies since 1826. Fur trading records list his name as "Fallon," "Fellun" and "O'Fallon," but he wrote his name as "Fallon." His journal of the Fourth Relief was first published in the California Star on June 5, 1847, with the following introduction: "Extracts from a Journal written by a member of the party latest from the California mountains. The extracts which we give below are full of thrilling interest. Mr. Fellun, the writer, better known as 'Capt. Fellun,' set out from the settlements in April last with six others, to extend relief to the remaining sufferers of the emigration, still within the mountains, and also to collect and secure the scattered property of both living and dead. ... We commend the diary as being a plain though well written document, and we have published it in the writer's own language, abating nothing from it in point of interest. Mr. Fellun certainly deserves credit for his management of the affair, as it will be seen that he effected the desirable end."
Contrary to the introduction, Fallon set out primarily to salvage the property of the Donners, of which his Party was to receive half in accordance with an agreement with John Sinclair, Alcalde of the Sacramento District.
The journal has never been found, and probably never existed. Prof. King suggests that the Journal could not have been written by Fallon, who was "a rough mountain man." King suggests that the Star article was written by George McKinstry, the Sheriif at Sutter's Fort. On March 5, McKinstry had written a letter to the Star which contained, according to McKinstry, extracts of Aquila Glover's journal of the First Relief. In fact, it appears to be a poor transcription of Ritchie and Tucker's journal, perhaps based on John Sinclair's copy of the Ritchie/Tucker journal.
On April 3, 1847, the California Star, San Francisco, published a letter from Lt. S.E. Woodworth: "To the Editor of the Star. San Francisco, April 1st. 1847. Sir.- I have but this moment arrived in Capt. Sutter's launch from Fort Sacramento, ... I have hastened down here, with some of the sufferers that required immediate attendance. Among them are two of my men, Henry Dann and Charles Cady, with feet badly frozen. I have brought Mary Donner and her brother down that they may obtain medical aid; the spanish boy John Baptiste and Howard Oakley came down with them as nurses. ...."
Among the papers donated by the Reed estate to the Sutter's Fort Museum:
Territory of California
Know all men by these presents that it is mutually agreed by John Sinclair on the one part acting in behalf of the Heirs of Jacob Donner deceased and by the undersigned on the other part that they shall proceed ot the Cabins in the California mountains where the property of said Jacob Donner deceased now is and if the property still remains there that they shall bring away all or as much of said property as they possibly can the property so brought away to be delivered into the hands of said John Sinclair shen an equal division of said property shall be made the undersigned receiving one half of said property for their services. It is likewise understoood and agreed that should George Donner and Wife be dead they shall likewise bring all of their property for the benefit of their Heirs on the same terms as is agreed upon relative to the property of the late Jacob Donner. And should their be any property which they cannot bring away belonging to the Estates of the above named persons that they shall Cash it as secretly and securely as circumstances will admit of. It is likewise understood taht should there be any money either in Gold or Silver that the undersigned shall receive one half the same as any other description of Property which they may find belonging to the Estates of the Persons within mentioned.
On their arrival at the Cabins should they find George Donner or Wife alive they the undersigned can then and there make any arrangements with both or either of them that will be satisfactory to all concerned taking care that whatever arrangements is entered into that it be drawn up in writing and a copy of said agreement brought in and delivered to John Sinclair in case of any accident happening to either of the parties after the date of the agreement.
John X Rhoades
Signed in my presence this tenth day of April A.D. 1847
Justice of the Peace"
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, The Cailfornia Star published an account
that has shaped much of the public perception of the Donner Party until
this day. "A more shocking scene cannot be imagined, than that witnessed
by the party of men who went to the relief of the unfortunate emigrants in
the California Mountains. The bones of those who had died and been
devoured by the miserable ones that still survived were lying around their
tents and cabins. Bodies of men, women and children, with half the
flesh torn from them, lay on every side. A woman sat by the body of
her husband, who had just died, eating out his tongue; the heart she had
already taken out, broiled, and eat! The daughter was seen eating the
flesh of the father--the mother that of her children--children that of father
and mother. The emaciated, wild, and ghastly appearance of the survivors,
added to the horror of the scene. Language cannot describe the awful
change that a few weeks of dire suffering had wrought in the minds of these
wretched and pitiable beings. Those who but one month before would
have shuddered and sickened at the thought of eating human flesh, or of killing
their companions and relatives to preserve their own lives, now looked upon
the opportunity by these acts afforded them of escaping the most dreadful
of deaths, as a providential interference in their behalf.--Calculations
were coldly made, as they sat gloomily around their gloomy camp fires, for
the next and succeeding meals. Various expedients were devised to prevent
the dreadful crime of murder, but they finally resolved to kill those who
had the least claims to longer existence. Just at this moment, however,
as if by Divine interpolation, some of them died, which afforded the rest
temporary relief. Some sunk into the arms of death cursing God for
their miserable fate, while the last whisperings of others were prayers and
songs of praise to the Almighty.
After the first few deaths, but the one all absorbing thought of individual self-preservation prevailed. The fountains of natural affection were dried up. The cords that once vibrated with connubial, parental and filial affection were rent assunder, and each one seemed resolved without regard to the fate of others to escape from the impending calamity. Even the wild hostile mountain Indians, who once visited their camps, pitied them, and instead of pursuing the natural impulse of their hostile feelings to whites, and destroying them as they could easily have done, divided their own scanty supply of food with them.
So changed had the emigrants become that when the party sent out, arrived with food, some of them cast it aside and seemed to prefer the putrid human flesh that still remained. The day before the party arrived, one of the emigrants took a child of about four years of age in bed with him, and devoured the whole before morning; and the next day eat another about the same age before noon.
It is thought that several more of these unfortunate people might have been saved, but for their determination not to leave their property. Some of them who started in, loaded themselves with their money and other effects to such an extent, that they sunk under them and died on the road. Acccording to the best accounts, forty-three died from starvation. They were principally from the neighborhood of Independence, Missouri."
Almost nothing in the article is true, but much of it has been repeated many times since:
The only woman who was with her husband at the arrival of the Third Relief was Mrs. George Donner, and he was still alive. Mrs. Donner had come to the Lake cabins to see her children, where she met the Third Relief.
It is likely that the Donner chldren survived by eating the flesh of Jacob Donner, but that had occurred at the Alder Creek cabins, which the Third Relief did not visit. The Donner girls had already been abandoned at the Lake cabins by Cady and Stone, so the Third Relief could not have seen any such cannibalism.
The only wife known to have been with her cannibalized husband was Sarah Graves Fosdick, who was with her husband Jay when he died with the Snow Shoe Party.
The only discussion of killing for food was on the Snow Shoe Party, not at the cabins where many single men had died before the hides ran out. It was likely their bodies that were first used for food.
There was no loss of family bonds. Mrs. Donner chose to remain with her sick husband. Mrs. Breen kept five of her own children, and three Graves children and Mary Donner, alive for a week at Starved Camp after they were abandoned by Jame Reed. Mrs. Murphy cared for her grandson George Foster, and for little James Eddy. Keseberg and Mrs. Murphy cared for the Donner girls abandoned by Cady and Stone.
The Indians were not the hostile parties. Patrick Breen records seeing only one Indian, the one who shared his food on February 28. The only suspicious deaths were those of the Indians from Sutter's Fort, Lewis and Salvadore, who fled the Snow Shoe Party fearing for their lives, and were barely alive when overtaken by the Snow Shoe Party.
Although the Donner girls reported that little George Foster died in Keseberg's bed, both they and Keseberg denied that Keseberg killed the child or consumed him in one night.
The only emigrant who could have traveled but who chose to remain behind was Mrs. Donner, who stayed not for her possessions, but with her husband. Although later some would say that Keseberg could have traveled, at the time he had an injured foot, and he had no possessions to protect.
There is no record of a survivor attempting to carry out possessions, other than Mrs. Graves who buried her coins along Donner Lake. Those who started in and carried out goods were the "rescuers" of the Second Relief, Cady, Stone and Clark. Woodworth had reported Clark as dead when Clark had remained behind at the Donner tents, but Clark came out.
None of the party were from Independence, although that is where most of the wagon trains had assembled.
Fallon's Journal of the Fourth Relief: "Left Johnson's on the evening of April 13th, ..."
Fallon's Journal of the Fourth Relief: "and arrived at the lower end of the Bear Valley on 15th. Hung our saddles upon the trees, and sent the horses bace, to be returned again in ten days, to bring us in again. Started on foot, with provisions for ten days, and traveled to the head of the valley and camped for the night snow from 2 to 3 feet deep."
Fallon's Journal of the Fourth Relief: "15th. Started early in the morning and traveled 23 miles, snow 10 feet deep." [This entry is probably for the 16th. 23 miles would have brought the Party from Bear Valley to the cabins at Donner Lake, so this mileage may be for the 16th and 17th. The camp of the 16th was probably along the Yuba River near present Kingvale.]
In 1879, Keseberg gave a statement to C.F. McGlashan: "Oh! the
days and weeks of horror which I passed in that camp! I had no hope
of being rescued, until I saw the green grass coming up by the spring on
the hillside, and the wild geese coming to nibble it. The birds were
coming back to their breeding grounds, and I felt that I could kill them
for food. I also had plenty of tobacco and a good meerschaum pipe,
and almost the only solace I enjoyed was smoking. In my weak condition
it took me two or three hours every day to get sufficient wood to keep my
Some time after Mrs. Donner's death, I thought I had gained sufficient strength to redeem the pledge I had made to her before her death. I started to go to the camps at Alder Creek to get the money. I had a very difficult journey. The wagons of the Donners were loaded with tobacco, powder, caps, shoes, school-books, and dry-goods. This stock was very valuable, and had it reached California would have been a fortune to the Donners. I searched carefully among the bales and bundles of goods, and found five hundred and thirty-one dollars. Part of this sum was silver, part gold. The silver I buried at the foot of a pine tree, a little way from the camp. One of the lower branches of another tree reached down close to the ground, and appeared to point to the spot. I put the gold in my pocket, and started to return to my cabin. I had spent one night at the Donner tents."
Fallon's Journal of the Fourth Relief: "April 17th. Reached the Cabins between 12 and 1 o'clock. Expected to find some of the sufferers alive, Mrs. Donner and Kiesburg in particular. Entered the cabins and a horrible scene presented itself,--human bodies terribly mutiliated, legs, arms, and sculls scattered in every direction. One body, supposed to be that of Mrs. Eddy, lay near the entrance, the limbs severed off and a frightful gash in the scull. The flesh from the bones was nearly consumed and a painful stillness pervaded the place. The supposition was that all were dead, when a sudden shout revived our hopes, and we flew in the direction of the sound, three Indians were hitherto concealed, started from the ground and fled at our approach, leaving behind their bows and arrows. We delayed two hours in searching the cabins, during which we were obliged to witness sights from which we would have fain turned away, and which are too dreadful to put on record.--We next started for 'Donner's camp' 8 miles distant over the mountains. After traveling about half way, we came upon a track in the snow, which excited our suspicion, and we determined to pursue it. It brought us to the camp of Jacob Donner, where it had evidently left that morning. There we found property of every description, books, calicoes, tea, coffee, shoes, percussion caps, household and kitchen furniture scattered in every direction, and mostly in the water. At the mouth of the tent stood a large iron kettle filled with human flesh cut up, it was the body of Geo. Donner, the head had been split open, and the brains extracted thereform, and to the appearance, he had not been long dead, and over three or four days at the most. Near by the kettle stood a chair, and thereupon three legs of a bullock that had been shot down in the early part of the winter, and snowed under before it could be dressed. The meat was found sound and good, and with the exception of a small piece out of the shoulder, wholly untouched. We gathered up some property and camped for the night."
In 1879, Keseberg gave a statement to C.F. McGlashan: "On my return I became lost. When it was nearly dark, in crossing a little flat, the snow suddenly gave way under my feet, and I sank down almost to my armpits. By means of the crust on top of the snow, I kept myself suspended by throwing out my arms. A stream of water flowed underneath the place over which I had been walking, and the snow had melted on the underside until it was not strong enough to support my weight. I could not touch bottom with my feet, and so could form no idea of the depth of the stream. By long a careful exertion I managed to draw myself backward and up on the snow. I then went around on the hillside, and continued my journey. At last, just at dark, completely exhausted and almost dead, I came in sight of the Graves cabin. I shall never forget my joy at the sight of that log-cabin. I felt I was no longer lost, and would at least have shelter. Some time after dark I reached my own cabin. My clothes were wet by getting in the creek, and the night was so cold that my garments were frozen into sheets of ice. I was so weary, and chilled, and numbed, that I did not build up a fire, or attempt to get anything to eat, but lay there shivering with cold; and when I finally slept, I slept very soundly."
Fallon's Journal of the Fourth Relief: "April 18. Commenced gathering the most valuable property, suitable for our packs, the greater portion requiring to be dried. We then made them up and camped for the night."
In 1879, Keseberg gave a statement to C.F. McGlashan: "I did not wake up until quite late in the next morning. To my utter astonishment my camp was in the most inexplicable confusion. My trunks were broken open, and their contents were scattered everywhere. Everything about the cabin was torn up and thrown about the floor. My wife' s jewelry, my cloak, my pistol and ammunition were missing. I supposed Indians had robbed my camp during my absence."
Fallon's Journal of the Fourth Relief: "April 19. This morning
Foster, Rhodes, and J. Foster started with small packs for the first cabins
intending from thence to follow the trail of the person that had left the
morning previous. The other three remained behind to cache and secure
the goods necessarily left there. Knowing the Donners had a considerable
sum of money, we searched diligently but were unsuccessful. The party
for the cabins were unable to keep the trail of the mysterious personage
owing to the rapid melting of the snow, they therefore went direct for the
cabins, and upon entering discovered Kiesburg lying down amidst the human
bones and beside him a large pan full of fresh liver and lights. They asked
him what had become of his companions, whether they were alive, and what
had become of Mrs. Donner. He answered them by stating they were all
dead; Mrs. Donner, he said, had in attempting to cross form one cabin
to another, missed the trail, and slept out one night; that she came
to his camp the next night very much fatigued, he made her a cup of coffee,
placed her in bed and rolled her well in the blankets, but the next morning
found her dead; he eat her body and found her flesh the best he had
ever tasted! He further stated that he obtained from her body at least
four pounds of fat! No traces of her person could be found, nor the
body of Mrs. Murphy either.--When the last company left the camp, three weeks
previous, Mrs Donner was in perfect health though unwilling to come out and
leaver her husband there, and offrered $500 to any person or persons who
could come out and bring them in, saying this in the presence of Kiesburg,
and she had plenty of tea and coffee, we suspected that it was her sho had
taken the piece from the shoulder of beef in the chair before mentioned.
In the cabin with Kiesburg was found two kettles of human blood, in
all supposed to be over one gallon Rhodes asked him where he had got
the blood, he answered, "there is blood in dead bodies,"--they asked him
numerous questions, but he appeared embarassed and equivocated a great deal,
and in reply to their asking him where Mrs. Donner's money was, he evinced
confusion and answered, that he knew nothing about it.--that she must have
cached it before she died--"I have'nt it" said he, "nor the money, nor the
property of any person, living or dead!" They then examined his bundle
and found silks and jewelry, which had been taken from the camp of the Donners,
and amounting in value to about $200; on his person they discoverd
a brace of pistols, recognized to be those of Geo. Donner, and while taking
them from him discovered something concealed in his waistcoat, which on being
opened was found to be $225 in gold.
Before leaving the settlements, the wife of Keysburg had told us that we would find but little money about him; the men therefore said to him that they knew he was lying to them, and hes was well aware of the place of concealment of the Donner's money; he declared before heaven, he knew nothing concerning it, and that he had not the property of any one in his possession; they told him that to lie to them would effect nothing, that there were others back at the cabins, who unless informed of the spot where the treasure was hidden, would not hesitate to hang him upon the first tree. Their threats were of no avail, he still affirmed his ignorance and innocence, and Rhodes took him aside and talked to him kindly, telling him that if he would give the information desired, he should receive from their hands the best of treatment, and be in every way assisted, otherwise, the party back at Donners' camp, would, upon his arrival and refusal to discover to them the place where he had deposited this money, immediately put him to death; it was all to no purpose, however, and they prepared to return to us, leaving him in charge of his packs, and assuring him of their determination to visit him in the morning, and he must make up his mind during the night. They then started back and joined us at Donner's Camp"
In 1879, Keseberg gave a statement to C.F. McGlashan: "Suddenly
I was startled by the sound of human voices. I hurried up to the surface
of the snow, and saw white men coming toward the cabin. I was overwhelmed
with joy and gratitude at the prospect of my deliverance. I had suffrered
so much, and for so long a time, that I could scarcely believe my senses.
Imagine my astonishment upon their arrival to be greeted, not with
a 'good morning' or a kind word, but with the gruff, insolent demand, 'Where
is Donner's money?'
I told them they ought to give me something to eat, and that I would talk with them afterwards, but no, they insisted that I should tell them about Donner's money. I asked them who they were, and where they came from, but they replied by threatening to kill me if I did not give up the money. They threatened to hang or shoot me, and at last I told them. I had promised Mrs. Donner that I would carry her money to her children, and I proposed to do so, unless shown some authority by which they had a better claim.. This so exasperated them, that they acted as though they were going to kill me. I offered to let them bind me as a prisoner, and take me before the alcalde at Sutter's Fort, and I promised that I would then tell all I knew about the money."
Fallon's Journal of the Fourth Relief: "April 20, We all started for Bear River Valley with packs of 100 cwt. each; our provisions being nearly consumed, we were obliged to make haste away. Came within a few hundred yards of the cabin which Kiesburg occupied and halted to prepare breakfast, after which we proceeded to the cabin. I now asked Kiesburg if he was willing to disclose to me where he had concealed that money; he turned somewhat pale and again protested his ignorance; I said to him, 'Keisburg, you know well where Donner's money is, and d--n you, you shall tell me! I am not going to multiply words with you, nor say but little about it--bring me thta rope!' he then arose from his pot of soup and human flesh and begged me not to harm him--he had not the money nor the goods; the silk clothing and money which were found upon him the previous day, and which he then declared belonging to his wife, he now said was the property of others in California. I then told him I did not wish to hear any more from him, unless he at once informed us where he had concealed the money of those orphan children, then producing the rope I approached him; he became frightened, but I bent the rope about his neck, and threw him, after a struggle, upon the ground, and as I tightened the cord and choked him he cried out that would confess all upon release; I then permitted him to arise. He still seem inclined to be obstintate, and made much delay in talking, finally, but with evident reluctance, he led the way back to Donner's camp about 10 miles distant, accompanied by Rhodes and Tucker. While they were absent, we moved all our packs over to the lower end of the lake, and made all ready for a start when they should return. Mr. Foster went down to the cabin of Mrs. Murphy, his mother-in-law, to see if any property remained there worth collecting and securing; he found the body of young Murphy, who had been dead about three months, with the breast and scull cut open, and the brains, liver and lights taken out, and this accounted for the contents of the pan which stood beside Kiesburg when he was found. It appears that he had left at the other camp the dead bullock and horse, and on visiting this camp and finding the body thawed out, took thereform the brains, liver and lights. ... We then move on, and camped on the lake for the night."
In 1879, Keseberg gave a statement to C.F. McGlashan: "They would listen
to nothing, however, and finally I told them where they would find the silver
buried, and gave them the gold. After I had done this, they showed
me a document from Alcalde Sinclair, by
which they were to receive a certain proportion of all moneys and property
which they rescued.
These men treated me with the greatest unkindness. Mr. Tucker was the only one took my part or befriended me."
Fallon's Journal of the Fourth Relief: "Tucker and Rhodes came back
the next morning, bringing $273, that had been cached by Kiesburg, who after
disclosing to them the spot, returned to the cabin. The money had been
hidden directly underneath the projecting limb of a large tree, and the end
of which seemed to point precisely to the treasure buried in the earth.--On
their return and passing the cabin, they saw the unfortunate man within,
devouring the remaining brains and liver, left from his morning repast!
They hurried him away, but before leaving, he gathered together the
bones and heaped them all in a box he used for the purpose, blessed them
and the cabin and said, 'I hope God will forgive me what I have done, I could'nt
help it! and I hope I may get to heaven yet!' We asked Kiesburg
why he did not use the meat of the bullock and horse instead of human flesh,
he replied he had not seen them. We then told him we knew better, and
asked him why the meat in the chair had not been consumed, he said 'oh!'
its too dry eating!' the liver and lights were a great deal better,
and the brains made good soup!
April 21st. Started for Bear River valley this morning, found the snow from six to eight feet deep, camped on Juba River for the night--" [The camp on the Juba could have been at the head of the Yuba just below the Pass.]
In 1879, Keseberg gave a statement to C.F. McGlashan: "When they started over the mountains, each man carried two bales of goods. They had silks, calicoes, and delaines from the Donners, and other articles of great value. Each man would carry one bundle a little way, lay it down, and come back and get the other bundle. In this way they passed over the snow three times. I could not keep up with them because I was so weak, but managed to come up to their camp every night."
Fallon's Journal of the Fourth Relief: "On the 22d., traveled down Juba about 18 miles, and camped at the head of Bear River valley.--" [18 miles from Bear Valley would be at the Pass.]
In 1879, Keseberg gave a statement to C.F. McGlashan: "One day I was dragging myself slowly along behind the party, when I came to a place which had evidently been used as a camping ground by some of the previous parties. Feeling very tired, I thought it would be a good place to make some coffee. Kindling a fire, I filled my coffee-pot with fresh snow and sat waiting for it to melt and get hot. Happening to case my eyes carelessly around, I discovered a little piece of calico protruding from the snow. Half thoughtlessly, half out of idle curiosity, I caught hold of the cloth, and finding it did not come readily, I gave it a strong pull. I had in my hands the body of my dead child Ada! She had been buried in the snow which, melting down, had disclosed a portion of her clothing. I thought I should go frantic! It was the first intimation I had of her death, and it came with such a shock!"
[Three year old Ada Keseberg had died on February 25, at the First Reief's camp at the upper end of the Yuba Bottoms, present Kingvale.]
In 1879, Keseberg gave a statement to C.F. McGlashan: "Just as were were getting out of the snow, I happened to be sitting in camp alone one afternoon. The men were hunting, or attending to their goods. I was congratulating myself upon my escape from the mountains, when I was startled by a snuffling, growling noise, and looking up, I saw a large grizzly bear only a few feet away. I knew I was too weak to attempt to escape, and so remained where I sat, expecting every moment he would devour me. Suddenly there was the report of a gun, and the bear fell dead. Mr. Foster had discovered the animal, and slipping up close to camp, had killed it."
Fallon's Journal of the Fourth Relief: "On the 25th, moved down to the lower end of the valley, met our horses, and came in."
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