Sarah Graves was born in Dearborn County, IN on January 25th, 1825, the Daughter of Franklin Ward Graves and Elizabeth Cooper. Sarah originally did not plan to accompany her parents on their emigration to California. But just before they were ready to depart, she realized she couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from them and thus joined the Party. She and her fiancé Jay Fosdick were wed just prior to leaving for the West, with their honeymoon spent crossing the plains. There are stories of Sarah staying up at night when it was Jay’s turn to stand guard.
Jay and Sarah were both members of the Forlorn Hope along with her sister Mary Anne and father Franklin. Sarah was the protagonist in Daniel James Brown’s novel, Indifferent Stars Above. Jay did not survive the journey to Johnson’s Ranch and perished in Sarah’s arms just past the New Year, 1847. Sarah was forced to once again see a member of her family cannibalized in order to save the other s in the party [her father Franklin has perished on Christmas Day a few days earlier]. Sarah was one of the five women of the Forlorn Hope, all of which survived the ordeal.
After reaching Johnson’s Ranch on January 17th, 1847 and spending time to rejoin her remaining family members and recover, she settled in the upper Napa Valley, where she taught the area’s first school under a brush shelter.
In 1848 Sarah married William Dill Ritchie, who like his father, Col. Matthew D. Ritchie, had assisted with the Donner relief. Six years later Ritchie was caught in possession of stolen mules and lynched near Sonoma, despite his protestations of innocence. Once again Sarah was left a widow, this time with two little boys to care for (George Gus “Leet” and Alonzo “Lon” Perry). Sarah had a third son who died young.
In 1856 she married her third and final husband, Samuel Spires. They had four children together, Lloyd, William, Eleanor and Alice Barton. Her third marriage was happy, but relatively brief. Sarah died suddenly of heart disease at the age of 46 on March 28th, 1871 in Corralitos, Santa Cruz, CA, leaving six children.