Lured by Lansford Hasting’s assurance that his shortcut from the well-known trail to Oregon and California would save 250 miles and weeks of travel, the ill-fated Donner-Reed party reached this place August 23, 1846, after spending 16 days to hack out a 36 mile road through the Wasatch Mountains. Here at this narrow mouth of the canyon, they were stopped by what seemed impenetrable brush and boulders. Bone-weary of that kind of labor, they decided instead to goad the oxen to climb the hill in front of you. Twelve-year-old Virginia Reed, later recalled that nearly every yoke of oxen was required to pull each of the party’s twenty-three wagons up the hill. After this ordeal, the oxen needed rest, but there was no time. The party pushed on to the Salt Flats, where many oxen gave out. This caused delays, which let to disaster in the Sierra Mountains.
A year later, July 22, 1847, Brigham Young’s Pioneer Party, following the Donners and benefiting from their labor, reached this spot. William Clayton recorded their decision: “We found the road crossing the creek again to the south and then ascending a very steep, high hill. It is so very steep as to be almost impossible for heavy wagons to ascend…. Colonel Markham and another man went over the hill and returned up the canyon to see if a road cannot be cut through and avoid this hill. Brother Markham says a good road can soon be made through the bushes some ten or fifteen rods. A number of men went to work immediately to make the road…. After spending about four hours of labor the brethren succeeded in cutting a pretty good road along the creek and the wagons proceeded on.”
Among the lessons learned that day was one stated succinctly by Virginia Reed in a letter to prospective emigrants back home: “Hurry along as fast as you can, and never take no shortcuts.”
Sometime around 2010 the plaque here was stolen, I drive by often and was pleasantly surprised to see a new one in 2016.
Here’s the original (photos not by me, but by my friend Rick Scheve.
DONNER HILL After 4 1/2 miles of fighting boulders and brush along stream bed Donner Party gave up here and on August 22, 1846 climbed steep hill to southwest. A survivor wrote, “We doubled teams, almost every yoke in the train (of 23 wagons) being required to pull up each wagon.” Mormon Pioneers a year later built road through to mouth of canyon with 4 hours labor. Erected by “Mormon” Explorers Y M M I A