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An Open Letter to the Forlorn Hope Expedition

[Editor’s note: Bill Holmes is a member of the OCTA and Wheatland Historical Society and is very knowledgeable of Camp Far West and Johnson’s Ranch, where the Forlorn Hope survivors ended their fateful journey. Bill has a vision for preserving this iconic California historical site. We are grateful for Bill and the rest of the Wheatland team for providing our rare access to Johnson’s Ranch and for their unwavering support]

To the Forlorn Hope 2020 Expedition,

The families of those that perished and those that survived the original Forlorn Hope group of the Donner Party would, I am sure, be honored that all of you involved in this project have spent so much time and energy understanding their plight. You have diligently researched the subject for seven years, not only reading all the material available, but hiking into the areas where they went to match up the descriptions given by the survivors with the physical world. That shows persistence and tenacity, qualities that anyone trying to cover 90 miles on snow in some of the roughest country in the world would need to survive.

It’s one thing to read material and talk to those involved in a tragic incident, but it quite another to go out and touch the earth where it happened. To feel the steepness of the terrain, the cold of being out in the snow without shelter or food. This is the only way to validate witness statements and gain a true understanding of the situation.

All of you involved in this History Trail Trekking (HTT) adventure have my deepest respect and admiration.

Good luck and I will see you at the Johnson Ranch, where all those survivors of the Donner Party ended up in 1847.

Bill Holmes

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Steve Menez

    I am so thrilled you are retracing this route. My fascination of the Donner story started in the early 1990s after watching the PBS special on their tragic journey. It was rekindled in 2015 after reading numerous Donner party books and diaries. I was extremely interested in the route the rescue parties took out of Truckee Lake(Donner lake). I drive all over trying to find areas they came through. I drove back to Casper Wyoming and retraced the route all the way back to Nevada, I found the spot where the “parting of the ways” was, where the Reeds, Donner’s and others left the main trail to take Hastings cutoff, the start of all their trouble. I drove my truck over the muddy, snow blanketed dirt roads over Hastings pass in late November. If I would have got stuck, I would have spent the winter out there, as I was warned “nobody drives those roads after the first snow hits”. My quest was worth the risk. I saw so many land monuments that I had read about in their journals. Those traveling the overland trail used these as directional markers. Split Rock was one of them. You could see it for 60 miles from their trail.
    I have spent the night in the snow out at Alder Creek near the George and Jacob Donner’s campsite, 7 miles back trail from the the main encampment at Donner lake. I’ve hiked over Donner pass multiple times in deep snow to get a feel for the climb they had to go up to get out of their snow prison camp at the lake.
    I’ve spent 22 years pro/am bicycle racing and hiked 1000 miles of the PCT so I love pushing the limits mixed in with adventure and history.
    My next Donner adventure is to kayak from Johnson Ranch(wheatland) to Sutters fort. As you know, once the wearied emigrants were nursed somewhat back to heath, the went on to Sutters Fort by rivers. Bear River to Feather River to Sacramento River. I’ve mapped it out. Somewhere around 30 miles. Have to do it in the rainy season as the Bear river gets low soon after spring. You all are invited if you want. Planning for spring 2021.

    So when I read you guys were doing this trek, I was extremely excited for you and a bit jealous. Have a safe trip. I might drive up to see you towards the end. I have the book written on Johnson Ranch.

    Steve Menez

  2. Patricia L Rittenhouse

    I’ve read about the HTT in my local newspaper. Couldn’t wait to delve into the website. Soo exciting that you are sharing your passion!

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