On Monday, February 1, 1847 seven riders from Sutter’s Fort camped a few miles below Johnson Ranch. They were to join others the next day to form the initial rescue effort – First Relief – to reach the members of the Donner Party trapped by snow in the Sierra Mountains at Truckee Lake and Alder Creek.
On Tuesday they gathered seven other recruits to make 14 in total and began preparation for their long and dangerous journey. This winter had seen several major snowstorms in succession, each bringing multiple feet of snow, rain to make it icy and heavy, wind to create drifts upwards of 30’+ and frigid cold. Attempting to rescue the starving emigrants would mean risking their own lives. Most of the members of 1st Relief had no familial relationship to any of the trapped emigrants. Their motivation for attempting the rescue was civility, doing what was right. A few may have been motivated by possible monetary gains but they’d be in the minority.
The men were supported by many others at Johnson Ranch – men and women – who slaughtered cattle, cut meat and dried it over fires, made snow shoes, pounded wheat for flour. For two days they labored and then on the morning of February 4th, they mustered for departure.
They were a motley looking crew, men with unkept beards, nondescript emigrant clothing of the time; felt hat, scarf, loose shirt, vest, baggy pants, suspenders, leather boots, poncho or jacket.
They rode out of Johnson Ranch on horses with pack animals – horses and mules trailing behind, following the well-worn tracks left by hundreds of overland emigrant wagons that had proceeded them.
The men were: Adolf “Greasy Jim” Bruheim, Aquilla Glover, Daniel Rhoads, Ed “Ned” Coffeemeyer, George Tucker, John Pierce Rhoads, Joseph “Joe Foster” Sels, Joe Verrot, Jotham Curtis, Matthew Dill “Colonel” Ritchie, Reason “Dan” Tucker, Riley Septimus Moutry, William Coon, William Eddy and Selem Woodworth, a 15th member who would be bringing up the rear to set up a base camp with additional provisions.
Over the next several weeks we will be sharing their story along with the other three Relief Parties as we prepare for the Donner Relief Expedition.
We hope you’ll come along with us on this journey as the story unfolds in this riveting America West tale.