The Donner Party
The Donner Party is perhaps the most well-known chapter of the Oregon Trail, and it’s one that hasn’t been completely written yet. For decades, it was a bit of a mystery just where the Donner Party’s final camp was. The general location of the camp at Alder Creek was long known, but it was only in 2012 that archaeologists found the exact site of the party’s camp. What they found was pretty incredible: Members of the Donner Party hadn’t been alone—other people had tried to help them. Among the bones that were found at the site were rabbits and deer, but according to all the firsthand accounts of the Donner Party, those animals weren’t eaten by the travelers. Low on ammunition, the members of the party wouldn’t have had the strength to go hunting anyway. Archaeologists also took another look at some of the stories that have long been passed down through the history of a local Native American tribe, the Wel Mel Ti. These stories describe a group of travelers starving over the long winter months. The Wel Mel Ti tried to help these travelers, leaving everything from rabbits to potatoes at the edge of their camp. They also tell of a deer that the tribe tried to bring to the travelers, but when they got close to the group of starving, terrified settlers, they were shot at. The Wel Mel Ti continued to watch the group as they went on their hunting trips. One day, the tribe saw the travelers eating the remains of those that had died. After that, the Wel Mel Ti avoided going near the camp, fearing for their own lives.