I want to share my news.
After surviving being snowbound with Mr. Donner, I’ve been trying to forgive myself for how we survived.
With the gold rush I obtained a stake near Placerville, but even modest supplies cost every dollar I had — and I found no gold.
I wanted to marry the nurse who helped me recover, but would not because I was broke.
I’m writing to report that I’ve accepted an offer from her father to manage his tarp business thanks to my textile experience in Boston.
His name is, Levi Strauss.
With Love, James.
photo credit: History.com
1) My story above, is fiction — historic micro-fiction to be exact.
The people who were and survived the Donner Party disaster are not. To stay alive, the survivors resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. The survivors staggered or were carried down the mountain to where gold was about to be discovered and they recovered in the months running up to its discovery at Sutter’s Mill on January 24, 1848, just east of today’s Sacramento. Can you imagine living with that as part of your immigration story?
The fact that most of the 49ers who immigrated to California the next year, during the only part of the year when the mountains on California’s eastern boarder would allow animal-drawn wagons hugely multiplied between 1848 as compared to 1849. This brought chaos to the laws of supply and demand where a simple egg was costing the equivalent of $20-25 in current money. Tools, and clothing prices also skyrocketed.
Much more money was made by various merchants selling goods to the miners than was ever to be made by miners actually finding gold. One of those companies was Levi Strauss which remains the most popular provider of the iconic blue denim jeans loved by so many today. Mr. Strauss started his business only a few months before the gold rush began and adapted his business to accommodate the miners and their need for tough clothing and thus created his very popular company.
2) Regarding the Donner Party, the book, “Ordeal by Hunger” by George R. Stewart. This book is the definitive story of the disaster that California’s Donner Pass, on the California and Nevada border, is named for. It is a challenging but wonderful read.
Excerpts from a good summary from: The Donner Summit Historical Society
The story starts with characters turning left for California while the “greater number of the  emigrants turned their wagons off to the right.” This was the fateful decision.”
Stewart gives information about wagon trains, wagons, and how they all operated but the main focus is on the human element. The emigrants were farmers and business men “the strong timber of which commonwealths are built” but the qualities needed at home were not the qualities needed for a journey across the continent. The emigrants were used to comforts, not hardships. “Many had never seen a mountain.” They also lacked the requisite skills: trail reading, finding water, or dealing with desert and snowstorms.
As they got close to the Sierra the party missed the turn to go into Coldstream Canyon to Roller or Coldstream Passes that had been used by emigrants in 1846. Instead, half the group ended up at Donner Lake under the granite walls of what would be called Donner Pass. The snow was five feet deep. The Donner family was miles away from the rest of the group.
The cannibalism though, although sometimes almost graphic, is not something Stewart blames the emigrants for. Who, in the most dire circumstances, would not eat human flesh to stay alive?
3) The Levi Strauss Company: This from: History.com Ref #7 One of the biggest mercantile success stories was that of Levi Strauss. A German-born tailor, Strauss arrived in San Francisco in 1850 with plans to open a store selling canvas tarps and wagon coverings to the miners. After hearing that sturdy work pants—ones that could withstand the punishing 16-hour days regularly put in by miners—were more in demand, he shifted gears, opening a store in downtown San Francisco that would eventually become a manufacturing empire, producing Levi’s denim jeans.