Saturday, December 09, 2006

80 years ago

Eighty years ago this month, newspapers across the country reported another drama in the snow:

Pioneer Methods Used in Rescuing Tourists

Tonopah, Nev., Dec. 1. (AP) -- Rescued from the fate which befell the Donner party in the winter of 1846-47, passengers of thirty-one automobiles trapped in snow drifts in Montgomery Pass in the Sierra Mountains between here and Southern California, were recovering today from frost bite and hunger.

Heroic measures of the old West were resorted [to] in effecting the rescue, but the telephone, unknown when the Donner party was trapped, was used to summon rescuers. Of the 88 in the Donner party, 42 perished in the deserts of Utah and Nevada and the mountains of California.

Montgomery Pass was sought by the tourists, men, women and children, because the Sierra [Donner] Pass, above Truckee, 200 miles to the north, was blocked for the winter. Huge drifts of snow trapped their automobiles and the tourists set about fighting off cold and starvation as best they could until help should come...

Their plight was made known throughout the mountain region by telephone. Soon Dan Haskin, veteran stage driver, was on the way from Tonopah with four horses and an automobile stage. He was accompanied by Bill Farrington, old time musher. They virtually dug their way to the summit of the pass, the snow blotting out their tracks as they fought through the drifts.

They found the refugees blue from cold and suffering from a two day fast. The cars were pulled out one by one and sent along a fairly clear road to the little resort of Benton, where the tourists were given aid.
--Salamanca (N.Y.) Republican-Press, December 2, 1926, p. 1

The following week an article debunking the story appeared, but got little or no attention:

Snow Yarn is Called Silly
"Stranded" Motorists Assert Story was Fantastic

A news story emanating from Tonopah last week to the effect that occupants of 31 automobiles stranded on the Montgomery pass during a snow storm were saved "from a fate similar to the Donner party" and were rescued "suffering from frostbite and hunger" has been branded as "fantastic" and "ridiculous by some of the "survivors."

Mrs. May Shepherd, proprietress of Shepherd's store at Mt. Montgomery at the top of the Nevada-California pass, sent word to Secretary W. M. David of the Nevada State Automobile Association yesterday that the "two-day fast" of the "entrapped motorists," at least, was not founded on fact.

She declared there is plenty of "eats" and accommodations at Mt. Montgomery and there was at the time the modern Donner party arrived.

Mrs. Shepherd's contention also is borne out by Mis Helen Lusich of Reno, a member of the party in one of the machines. She declares that when the string of California-bound cars and the Nevada-bound contingent met at the top of the pass there was a general celebration and neither hunger not intensive cold was encountered. Those headed for Nevada were invited to remain for supper and partake of five of the Shepherds' turkeys, but time was precious and the did not tarry. It is presumed by the Nevadans , however, that the following Californians consumed the birds.

A trainman employed on the Southern Pacific line from Mina to Bishop, which the highway parallels and once crosses through the pass, also scouted the "harrowing experience."

He declares there was much hilarity and, although there were plenty of shovels and tools and plenty of man power in the machines to cut a way through the snow, many of the potential now shovelers preferred to sit on the station platform, swing their legs and "let George do the work."

-- Nevada State Journal (Reno), December 12, 1926, p. 8.

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