Tuesday, October 12, 2010

There’s Money in That Old Quilt; Then and Now, The Difference in American Leadership

By J. Speer-Williams

“No thief will ever guess that we have $10,000 sewn into Grandma’s old quilt,” said Mrs. Donner to her three girls and husband, after dinner, one cold night, while in their warm and comfortable living room.

In early 1846, the wealthy Illinois family of George and Tamsen Donner, with their three daughters, were about to become American pioneers to California. And 10,000 dollars – equal to about 150,000 to 200,000 dollars, today – would go a long way in ensuring their success in California. But why go?

Many pioneers believed in Manifest Destiny, an idea that the land between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans belonged to America , and Americans had not only the right, but the duty to settle those lands.

And, they – like many Americans of that day – were robust, brave, and instilled with the pioneer spirit, a spirit so lacking in many of us, today.

There would be no fast, warm, comfortable vehicle to quickly transport them over smooth highways, with restaurants, motels, and gas-filling stations along the way. Instead, they’d be driving a team of oxen, that pulled all of their most important and vital possessions, in a wagon covered with canvas.

Their covered wagon would not be averaging 60 mph, but two miles per hour … if everything went right.

In the 1840s, most Americans lived East of the Mississippi River. West of the Mississippi, all the way to the Pacific Ocean, lay a vast, untapped, unsettled wilderness.

But with plows on the rear tailboards of their covered wagons, those of the pioneer spirit went west, some all the way to California, by way of the Oregon Trail. These vanguards of conquest were intent on turning the Western wilderness into a living land.

The Oregon Trail, as the route to the West Coast was called, was no more than wagon ruts, that cut a dim path across our great continent, across our great deserts and over the mighty Rockies.

In the Spring of 1846, the Donner party of nine wagons and 32 people left Independence, Missouri bound for Fort Sutter, California. Within a week of their departure, 50 wagons joined the Donners, making a total of 87 men, women, and children headed west, as a group.

The New World, however, bared access to her bounty with stifling heat, deadly cold, and driving storms. Our pioneer forefathers and mothers were met with hardships, danger, and possible death with every turn of their wagon wheels.

Soon the heavily laden wagons of the Donner train of wagons were hit and slowed by daily soaking thunderstorms, causing deep muddy bogs, which reduced their travel speed from two mph to two miles a day.

The wagon journey to California, which usually took between four to six months, had to be very carefully planned, so as to be out of the Sierra Nevada Mountains before snow fell, otherwise food and water supplies would not last.

Some time before July of 1846, the Donner party finally reached Fort Laramie in eastern Wyoming.

There George Donner was warned not to try to make up lost time, by taking what was known as the Hastings Cutoff, that reportedly could cut 400 miles, or more off the trip.


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