Docent


Even though a storm left several inches of new fallen snow in the Sierra Mountain this last week, I decided to use one of my days off to get out and enjoy the winter weather with a hike at Donner Lake.  Once in the parking lot of the interpretive center, I found I couldn’t visit the bronze statue because of construction.

So I went inside, paid for my parking spot and then sat down and watched a 20 minute film about the Donner Party. From there I followed the trail south to one of the three cabin sites, so I could get a feel for the remoteness of the place.

In April 1846, a group of families left Missouri, bound for California. Their wagon train was seriously delayed when a “shortcut” was anything but.  An early and severe snowstorm prevented passage over the High Sierra forcing the ill-fated party to spend the winter near present-day Truckee.

Once their provisions were gone and the oxen consumed, the desperate emigrants resorted to cannibalizing their dead friends and relatives. Forty-two of the 89 would-be settlers perished.

But that was long ago, and today the sights along the trail are breathtaking, especially with a layer of snow on the ground and Donner Creek flowing through the grasslands. I am glad I had my camera in hand as I stopped several times to snap photos of the beauty.

As I approached the site of the Murphy cabin, a young brunette woman in her mid-20s named Ellie met me. Dressed in a period costume of dark brown, a dirty bodice and skirt with an apron that had at one time been white, she looked like she had stepped right off the Emigrant Trail.

She also wore raw-hide, square-toed boots, a dark-blue cotton “slat” bonnet. And round her shoulders was a tattered old blanket, folded in a triangle.

Not only was she dressed for the part, she played the part too. Ellie told me her  husband Will built the cabin, which housed 13 people, using a large granite boulder for its west wall, keeping the snow from collapsing the wooden frame.

Ellie’s authenticity and knowledge and the fact she was willing to brave the chill to teach visitors about this sad piece of history, left me impressed. I went to take her picture but my camera’s battery was dead.

After she told me about the cabin site, and the horrors that occurred there, we said goodbye and I wandered back towards my truck. But I stopped into the center first to look around some more and to pay a compliment to Ellie.

The two woman, staffing the center, looked at me as if I were out of my mind as one stated, “We don’t have anyone named Ellie working here.”

“What?” I asked.

Then the second chimed in,”And we don’t do tours.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.