Friday, June 15, 2012

The Donner Party

My sister Tricia took her kids and I up to Tahoe where we had a great time hanging out at Squaw Valley for a few days. As we were leaving, we decided to head over to Donner Lake and check out the Emigrant Trail Museum and learn more about the Donner Party.  I used to be pretty fascinated with this true story of adventure, bad judgement, bad luck, suffering and cannibalism. Its a kind of suffering that we can only shudder and guess about. The event is really just one of the hundreds of stories from those times, but it has remained one of the most notorious. And some of these survivors contributed to some serious molding of the state of California. Vallejo was in the running for becoming the state capitol! (Its the town over the bridge and next door to me!)

The wild, wild west is full of these stories of adventure and hardships. And depending on whose side you are on in the "taming" of this country, its pretty fascinating to look back on how we got to this point in time........what they wore, what they did, how they managed if they managed at all......................

Having grown up in California, having had ancestors that got in their wagons and headed west, having family that headed over to California during the last Great Depression, and now having  lived through a time of opulence and fortune to sadly  be entering into a new period of potential decline of our Super Power country, I am being drawn back once again to stories of courage and .hardship. Stories of what people are really made of when they are forced to make do with what they've got. Stories of never giving up. Stories of living and dying for a dream of a better future. It helps me to go on when I have one of those days of not being able to see the glass half full.

I do love an amazing gown. I love sequins and faded velvet and all the sumptuous clothing that were worn by the well to do from other eras, but it seems that these are the garments that most focus on when we think of the Olden Days. And understandably so. The real clothing isnt very glamorous. It is functional  with maybe a frill or two. You can tell so much about a people by what they wear. Its how I learned a lot of world history.

Tricia and I had fun comparing ourselves to the pioneer clothing worn by the real women of the mid 1800's. What a joke. We wouldn't last a day on the trail like this in our leggings, cute shoes, cowboy hat from Ross and designer capris. Of course, this isnt what we would wear on a cross country hike, but its really hard to imagine walking across rough country in a long dress. Hundreds and hundreds of miles of it. There was no sunscreen, so they had to wear those huge bonnets to protect themselves from sun and insects. They were hot and miserable. There were no lightweight cross trainers or hiking boots. They had hard soled shoes. Their feet must have killed them. They got real old before their time.

And bringing along children...........what spoiled modern child would be able to survive this? The story of little Patty Reed is so sweet. She had to give up her toys to lighten the load but she hid this little doll in her dress. This is just a copy. The original is in the Fort Sutter Museum in Sacramento because those were the guys who came to rescue them and she donated it to their museum.

A few relics. A few textiles. An old sewing machine. Native beaded garments, books, and guns. Lots of dioramas full of facts and visuals. Its not a fancy museum and you might not be very impressed as they get little funding ( I'm sure). It does give you a very clear idea, however, of how it was back then and what happened to those poor stranded  adventurers. There are lots of books on interesting subjects pertaining to the area and since one of the women working there used to be a librarian, she was able to give us a wealth of information on which were the best to read.

  I just finished this one. Its a quick read and he tells it like he supposed it must have been - not a dry read at all. Yet filled with facts enough to appreciate the soft lives that we lead.

If you are in the area, check it out. And here are some wonderful reenactment photos from Fort Sutter.

 Sorry about the vintage iphone photos. I wasnt thinking about using them for blogging at the time. But hopefully its a bit informative and entertaining!

1 comment:

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