The following list is not exhaustive but it does
clear up some of the recent misconceptions about the
Eighty-one people were trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
during the winter of 1846-47 in two camps. One group wintered
at Donner Lake in three cabins and a lean-to. The other group
wintered in tents at Alder Creek.
2. Recent excavations have focused on the Alder Creek camp,
where one-quarter of the emigrants wintered. They included 16
members of the George and Jacob Donner families plus 6 other
3. The historical record indicates that cannibalism began at
Alder Creek during the last week of February 1847, and that it
occurred there for only about one week.
4. Over 16,000 very small bone fragments were recovered during
excavations at Alder Creek. Only 85 of these fragments were
large enough and stable enough to be identified to species.
These 85 fragments were determined to be from rodent, dog or
other canine, deer, rabbit, horse, and oxen/cattle.
bone fragments were submitted for DNA testing; however, DNA was
not recovered due to the poor condition of the bone. Intense
burning of the bone and the moisture rich archaeological context
likely caused the degradation of the DNA.
6. Although some Donner Party members participated in
cannibalism, no human bone was identified in the 85 fragments
analyzed from the extensive bone sample at Alder Creek.
reason that human bone was not identified at Alder Creek may be
due to one or all of these reasons: small number of bone samples
analyzed, limited excavation of site, complete decomposition of
human remains, different processing strategies for human tissue.
work has focused on the analysis of both historical and
archaeological sources to understand how the emigrants survived
in the mountains for four months. We have concluded that before
resorting to cannibalism, they consumed their animals and
supplemented their diet with wild game.
results from Alder Creek reflect only what happened at that
links for additional information on the Donner Party: