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  • Writer's pictureNancy Herman

A parting of the ways: July 1846

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

(Above: The newly named Donner Party took this left hand turn near the Little Sandy River, in what is now Wyoming. They hoped to save several weeks and hundreds of miles by choosing the Hastings Cutoff over the more traveled California Trail.)

Virginia Reed’s family camped their last night as members of the Russell Company at Little Sandy, a river near today’s tiny town of Farson, Wyoming. Most company members decided to take the more traveled California Trail. The Reeds, the Donners, and several other families–eighty-seven pioneers in all–said goodbye to their traveling companions and followed a trail that forked southwest to Fort Bridger and the Hastings Cutoff. The point at which this trail diverged was called “the parting of the ways.”

The families, encouraged by Virginia’s father’s enthusiasm for the cutoff, hoped it would save them several weeks and hundreds of miles. They were further encouraged by a letter from Lansford Hastings himself, delivered to the wagon train by a messenger, saying he was waiting at Fort Bridger and would personally lead them through the entire cutoff into California. Before taking the cutoff, the Donner Party camped near the Little Sandy River, which winds westward toward the parting of the ways.

Since George Donner was elected captain of the breakout group, their new name became the Donner Party.

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