Winter in the sierras
As i was returning from Reno Nevada we were caught in a bad blizzard, and we thought of the early day pioneers and how hard it must have been going over those same mountains 100 years before. The drive and determination they must have had.
Crossing the pass
When I was crossing the mountains one time, sitting in my new pickup truck with soft foam seats, with the radio playing and the heater on full blast. The blizzard blowing out side did not bother me one bit. We were on the interstate above Donner Lake going from Reno, Nevada to Sacramento, California. We were moving along slowly even with the tire chains on, the road was very slow and treacherously slippery, but we were moving.
I got to thinking about some other travelers crossing those same mountains at the same place, ONE HUNDRED YEARS BEFORE. That was what was called the Donner Party, immigrants going to California in search of a better life. They got off course and ended up at the Pass to late, the snows had already come, covering the mountains and the trail they were supposed to follow. They made it to the east end of the lake that is now called Donner Lake and decided to spend the winter there.
They were ill equipped to spend the winter in the mountains especially at an altitude of almost 7000 feet. They cut trees to build cabins and seal them from the weather as best they could. I have been where they camped in both winter and summer, the way the lake is situated the wind blows relentlessly and in winter its worse than a deep freeze but in the summer there is a nice beach with sand and everything.
As it turned out it was a long winter and they ran out of food staples like bacon, coffee and flour so they could not make bread or biscuits. They ended up eating some of their animals, but not the ones that they had to have to pull the wagons over the mountain.
Today we use the protection of the snow sheds to get the trains across in the winter.
How did they survive
There are many stories about how they survived and what they ate to survive. Some folks say they resorted to cannibalism. Nobody knows for sure. As winter turned to spring some other travelers came up the trail and rescued them, by sharing their food and animals with them, and they all went on to Sacramento.
As we progressed on down the highway we came to what is called Emigrant Gap, and right there the traffic stopped for a long while. There was some problem up a head with the road or the snow so we had to sit there while, we were very tired and fell asleep. Sitting in the middle of the interstate in a blizzard and we fell asleep, I have no idea how long we slept but the cars were going around us , no one blew their horn to wake us up, they just went around us. We were embarrassed to say the least.
Over the hump
At Emigrant Gap is where the wagon trains got on the downhill trail to Sacramento , just like us in the pickup only they did it in 1847 and we were in 1955. The mountains are still there, the lake is still there and there is a memorial at the head of Donner Lake now to commemorate what happened there and to honor those brave souls who tried to make a better life for them and their families.
Once they got over the (Hump) as we called the pass it was an easy run on down to Sacramento. The Sacramento Valley is very large with thousands of acres of fertile land in the delta, with plenty of free water for now. Later on when dams and pipelines were built to control the flow of water and take it to where they wanted it to go. Then they had to charge for the water to cover the cost of the dams and pipelines they built.
Even at that time the Sacramento river delta was a economic force of all its own, not only from the crops being grown, the shipping was a huge income producing enterprise since ocean going ships could come all the way to Sacramento.
There is a lot more to tell on this story, but that will come at a later time.