The Diary of Patrick Breen
From November 20, 1846 to March 1, 1847, Irish immigrant Patrick Breen, a Donner party member, kept a diary of his ordeal in the mountains. Clinging to survival with his wife Margaret and their seven children, Breen described the harsh winter weather, the leather hides they resorted to eating, and the deaths of their traveling companions.
As spring approached, rescuers made their way to the Donner party’s mountain encampment. By March, Breen and his family were safely at Sutter’s Fort in California. All seven children and both parents had survived. Baby Isabella, who remembered nothing of the ordeal, lived until 1935, the last survivor of the Donner party.
“came to this place on the 31st of last month that it snowed we went on to the pass the snow so deep we were unable to find the road, when within 3 miles of the summit then turned back to this shanty on the Lake, Stanton came one day after we arriveed here we again took our teams & waggons & made another unsuccessful attempt to cross in company with Stanton we returned to the shanty it contiuneing to snow all the time we were here we now have killed most part of our cattle having to stay here untill next spring & live on poor beef without bread or salt” - November 20, 1846
“still snowing now about 3 feet deep…killed my last oxen today will skin them tomorrow gave another yoke to Fosters hard to get wood” - November 29, 1846
“... snow about 5 ½ feet or 6 deep difficult to get wood no gong from the house completely housed up looks as likely for snow as when it commenced, our cattle all killed but three or four them, the horses & Stantons mules gone & cattle suppose lost in the Snow no hopes of finding them alive” - December 1, 1846
“... Milt. & Noah went to Donnos 8 days since not returned yet, thinks they got lost in the snow…”
December 17, 1846
“... May we with Gods help spend the comeing year better than the past which we purpose to do if Almighty God will deliver us from our present dreadful situation…” - December 31, 1846
“... Keyburg sent bill to get hides off his shanty & carry them home this morning, provisions scarce hides are the only article we depend on, we have a little meat yet, may God send us help” - January 17, 1847
“ ... John Battice & Denton came this morning with Eliza she wont eat hides Mrs Reid sent her back to live or die on them Milt. Got his toes froze the donoghs are all well” - January 21, 1847
“... those that went to Suitors not yet returned provisions getting very scant people getting weak liveing on short allowance of hides” - January 26, 1847
“John & Edw went to Graves this morning the Graves Seize d on Mrs Reids goods until they would be paid also took the hides that she & family had to live on.” - January 30, 1847
“... Peggy very uneasy for fear we shall all perish with hunger we have but a little meat left & only part of 3 hides has to support Mrs. Reid she has nothing left but one hide…” - February 5, 1847
“... J Denton trying to borrow meat for Graves had none to give they have nothing but hides all are entirely out of meat but a little we have our hides are nearly all eat up but with Gods help spring will soon smile upon us” - February 10, 1847
“... Mrs Graves refused to give Mrs Reid any hides put Suitors pack hides on her shanty would not let her have them says if I say it will thaw it then will not, she is a case” - February 15, 1847
“... shot Towser today & dressed his flesh Mrs Graves came here this morning to borrow meat dog or ox they think I have meat to spare but I know to the Contrary they have plenty hides I live principally on the same” - February 23, 1847
“... The Donnos told the California folks that they commence to eat the dead people 4 days ago, if they did not succeed that day or the next in finding their cattle then under ten or twelve feet of snow…” - February 26, 1847
“... there has 10 men arrived this morning from bear valley with provisions we are to start in two or three days & Cash our goods here there is amongst them some old they say the snow will be here untill June” - March 1, 1847
The Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley, has made page images of the diary available as part of the Online Archive of California.