Tragedy was no stranger to western trails, but the sad experience of this ill-fated group has come to symbolize the hardships of all.
A large, well equipped wagon train rolled toward California in 1846. It crossed the plains without difficulty, but as it neared Fort Bridger a dispute arose. They had read Lansford Hastings' book, The Emigrants Guide to Oregon and California which suggested a shorter route and advertised that Hastings would guide those interested himself. The route- which headed west from Fort Bridger through the Wasatch Mountains, around the southern end of the Great Salt Lake, across the Salt Desert and on to the Humboldt River-was untested by wagons. Still, many were inclined to take it.
The company split and the majority took the longer northern route. The smaller division, joined by several small groups and individuals, headed for Hastings' Cutoff. They were eighty-seven men, women and children with twenty wagons led by Jacob Donner and James Reed.