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November 10, 1864: Over Donner Pass

November 10, 2014

Donner Lake

Donner Lake; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr


Donner Lake

Donner Lake from near Donner Pass; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

[Today] I bade goodbye to my friends at Virginia City and got upon the stage at noon for California again. I rode on the box with the driver, so I had a good chance to see the country. We crossed the Truckee River and then ascended the grand Sierra. We went by the Truckee Pass, where the Pacific Railroad is to cross, according to present hopes. We passed by Donner Lake, a beautiful sheet of water three miles long, the scene of the fearful tragedy that overtook the Donner party at “Starvation Camp” a few years ago1. Here we took supper; then again on the stage and over the pass.

Old Donner Highway

Old Donner Pass Highway; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

It is the grandest of the wagon road passes that I have yet seen. The moon was at its full, and as a little snow lay around and as the naked granite rocks are so very light colored, we could see almost as well as by day. The road winds up the rocky height through a scene of unmitigated rocky desolation—great bare crags, with here and there a tree or bush struggling for existence in the corners and crevices—all else naked rock and snow. How a railroad is to be got through and over this pass is not easy to see. It will take much money.

The night was cold as well as clear. After crossing the summit we were soon in the grand forests of the western slope. We had a jolly set on the stage, that is on the top, and we awoke the echoes of the mountains with our songs.

1Brewer had actually met a survivor of the Donner Party, but seems to have been unaware of it.

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