So much has been happening on the Donner Party front this spring that it's hard to know where to start.
Yesterday I was surprised and pleased to hear of another book in the works, this one with a very different approach. In 1973 Gabrielle Burton was bitten by the Tamzene Donner bug. Over the years she's pursued Tamzene, traveling to Newburyport, Mass., Elizabeth City, N.C., Springfield, Ill., and of course, the Donner Lake area, in her search, often with her family in tow. Next year the University of Nebraska Press will publish Searching for Tamsen Donner, which chronicles Gabrielle's quest, tells Tamzene's story, and includes the texts of Tamzene's letters. Sounds great!
Over the years, we've heard so much about the Donners and the Reeds (and more recently the Breens) that other Donner Party members have been slighted. I've tried to remedy this in my own research by concentrating more on the other families and single men, and am therefore pleased to report on projects involving the Murphy and Graves families.
Marysville, Calif., was named for Donner Party survivor Mary Murphy Covillaud; her sisters Sarah and Frances also lived there for several years, and their brother William was a prominent citizen of the town. I've been working with three Marysville ladies, all active in local history circles, who have developed a novel approach to presenting the story of the Murphy family: Sarah Murphy Foster (Kathy Sedler), Harriet Murphy Pike Nye (Sue Cejner-Moyers), and Mary Murphy Covillaud (Karen Compton) each take a turn to speak about part of the family's experience. The Three Murphy Sisters have been very well received and have gotten several requests for future presentations.
I was delighted to learn from Daniel James Brown that he's finished the first draft of his Donner Party book, Seeking Sarah (what is it with these missing Donner Party females?), which focuses on Sarah Graves Fosdick and the Graves family. I very much look forward to seeing it, because, although I try not to play favorites, I have a particular affinity for the Graveses -- five of the six surviving children of the family lived in the area of Northern California where I grew up, and descendants live there to this day. I've gotten to know several of them and they're fine folks. The Graves family's story, filtered through most histories' pro-Reed bias, has yet to be told adequately, and I'm confident that Dan will do them justice.
And then there are the movies. Necrosis, which wrapped in February, is a horror film: six friends, trapped by snow in an isolated cabin in the Sierra Nevada, are haunted by the ghosts of the Donner Party. Not a bad premise, really, but the creators perpetuate the tiresome canard that the Donner Party slaughtered one another a hunger-induced frenzy.
The filming of The Forlorn has just ended -- see previous blog entry called "The movie that couldn't be made." From the title and the dramatis personae, it's obviously about the Forlorn Hope -- the snowshoers who set out from Donner Lake in mid-December 1846 to seek help. More details coming soon!