Death amid the Mountains

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XIII (3) start of chapter

That Martin Murphy's venture was full of peril, notwithstanding its fortunate result, may be learned from the story of the terrible disaster which overtook the Donner party, among whom were some Irish—one of them now an extensive proprietor in the county of Monterey. This party, consisting of over eighty persons, crossed the plain in the summer of 1846. On the 31st of October they were caught in a snow storm in the Californian mountains, in which all their cattle perished; and having consumed the last of their provisions, and even eaten the leather of their saddles and harness, they were driven to the dreadful extremity of feasting on the remains of those who had died of cold and hunger. A gallant band was despatched to their relief from San Francisco; but, owing to the high state of the waters of the Sacramento, and the heavy snowfall in the mountains, they were delayed several weeks before they could reach the sufferers. On the 1st of March 1847, relief arrived, but too late for many of their party; for, out of a company of eighty-one, not more than forty-five were found alive, the remaining thirty-six having perished horribly. One of the band sent to their aid, an Irishman, was in time to save a poor famished and frenzied mother from laying deadly hands on her own infant, to which he gave the shelter of his coat and the warmth of his honest breast all the way to San Francisco. The Ranch owner, who was one of the survivors, is now living in San Juan, South, with his wife and grown-up children, who shared the privations of that terrific trip across the plains. The old gentleman, though now in his seventy-fifth year, is in the most robust health, and looks several years younger than his actual age.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America