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300 DONNER PARTY DESCENDANTS GATHER.

Byline: Martin Griffith Associated Press

More than 300 Donner Party descendants revisited the scene of their ancestors' worst terrors Saturday to observe the 150th anniversary of their tragic westward trek.

Unlike the hard-luck pioneers, the descendants enjoyed good weather, abundant food and cordial relations at California Trail Days '96 and the Donner Party Sesquicentennial. It was the most descendants ever assembled.

Descendants insisted there's no bad blood between the families anymore. Descendants representing the party's Donner, Reed, Graves, Breen and Murphy families are attending the event, which will end Monday.

``I can't believe we're still at war,'' said Patricia Hillman of Tulare, a great-great-granddaughter of party captain George Donner. ``This happened 150 years ago . . . Time is a healer.''

``Maybe there were feuds in the early days, but I've seen no evidence of any now,'' added event organizer Frankye Craig.

Dozens of members of the dissension-racked party starved to death and others resorted to cannibalism to survive when stranded in the Sierra near Truckee over the winter of 1846-47. Forty-two of the 89 members died.

The party's woes stemmed from an untested shortcut in Utah and Nevada, and a storm that brought heavy snow to the Sierra a month earlier than usual. The group also was plagued by personality conflicts and a lack of leadership.

James Reed III is a former mayor of San Anselmo. The post now is held by Peter Breen, great-great-grandson of Donner Party member Patrick Breen.

The Breen and Graves families held reunions in conjunction with the event. Family historians praised their ancestors during programs, calling them heroes for their courage.

``We get tired of the focus on the cannibalism,'' said Joseph Williamson of Corte Madera, great-grandson of survivor Nancy Graves. ``It's not a big part of the story.

``The strength it took to survive and the contributions they made to the settlement of California are more important.''

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Joseph Williamson, left, Fred Meier and Art Henry me et up at the Donner Party descendants reunion.

Associated Press
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 18, 1996
Words:334
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