A new book analyzing one of the most spectacular tragedies in American history reveals what the 81 pioneers ate before resorting to eating each other in a desperate attempt to survive. On the menu: family pets, bones, twigs, a concoction described as "glue," strings and, eventually, human remains.Top photo credit Ṁ‽ǩ€ §ρ!и@ķ.
The book, "An Archaeology of Desperation: Exploring the Donner Party's Alder Creek Camp," centers on recent archaeological investigations at that campsite near Truckee, Calif., where one quarter of the 81 emigrants spent their nightmarish winter of 1846-47...
Co-editor Kelly Dixon, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at The University of Montana, told Discovery News that she and her colleagues "are emphasizing the fact that the historical and archaeological sources present a complicated story about humans doing whatever possible, including eating hide and strings as well as consuming their dogs, before making the desperate decision to cannibalize..."
Dixon and co-editors Julie Schablitsky and Shannon Novak identified rodent, canine, deer, rabbit, horse and oxen/cattle bones within the over 16,000 bone fragments...
Of the family dog "Cash," emigrant Virginia Reed Murphy wrote, "We ate his head and feet -- hide -- evry thing about him."..
Johnson reports that James Frazier Reed, who left and then returned with men to help at Jacob Donner's camp, "found a gruesome scene."
Hair, bones, skulls, and the fragments of half-consumed limbs were said to be around the fire. Jacob Donner's body was found with his heart and liver removed and his limbs and arms cut off. Another account describes children having blood on their faces, after trying to consume such flesh.
Small embed: "A 19th-century portrait of a family dog, possibly Nero, which was likely eaten." Credit: American Antiquarian Society.