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  • Writer's pictureNancy Herman

Sutter’s Fort: March 1847

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

Sutter’s Fort in the mid-1800s. All pioneers on the California Trail eventually made it here to Sacramento.

Once within the safe walls of Sutter’s Fort in the small riverside town of Sacramento, Virginia Reed and other rescued members of the Donner Party were able to bathe, wear clean clothing, and eat real food again. She was in California and she was safe–but that meant little to her with her father and siblings still struggling in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Virginia spent much of her time standing at the gates and squinting east at the white-capped Sierra, hoping to see her loved ones approaching. It was still snowing up there. Would they get to Sutter’s Fort safely, too? She could only watch and wait.

Today Sutter’s Fort is a California State Historic Park located in the heart of tree-filled Sacramento, the California State Capitol. The museum has quite a collection of Donner-Reed artifacts and papers.

This is where my journey ended, too. Since I live nearby I have visited the Donner-Reed exhibits there several times.

Captain John Sutter in 1840s

I have been fortunate enough to have access to private items in the collection, such as photographs, letters, Grandma’s hair comb, and legal papers that are not exhibited. Much of this information made its way into my book, All We Left Behind: Virginia Reed and the Donner Party.

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