The Donner Party Took a Critical Wrong Turn In Wyoming
When you hear the name Donner Party the first image might be of starving people stuck in a mountainside snow storm, starving, and looking at the body of a dead party member in desperation.
None of that would have happened if they had not chosen a shortcut in Wyoming.
The Donner Party started its trip dangerously late in the pioneer season. They were desperately trying to make it before winter caught up with them.
After reaching Wyoming, most California-bound pioneers followed a route that turned up north through Idaho, around a chain of mountains, then south again and across Nevada.
We can blame a bad guidebook for the wrong turn. The Hastings Trail is the red line on the map below.
The trail cutoff is near Fort Bridger Wyoming, within sight of what is now Interstate 90.
In 1846, dishonest guidebook author named Lansford Hastings was promoting a straighter and supposedly quicker path that cut through the Wasatch Mountains and across the Salt Lake Desert.
There was just one problem: no one had ever traveled this “Hastings Cutoff” with wagons, not even Hastings himself. Despite the obvious risks—and against the warnings of James Clyman, an experienced mountain man—the 20 Donner Party wagons elected to break off from the usual route and gamble on Hastings’ back road. The decision proved disastrous. (History Channel).
The television show Expedition Unknown, with Josh Gates, is currently following the story of the Donner Party.
Host Josh gates stood in an area in Wyoming known as the hasting cutoff. Wagon ruts can still be found there to this day.
To give you an idea of what the Wyoming side of that trail looks like, the actual cutoff itself here is a drone video that was shot there. Wagon ruts can still be seen.
The video starts with a shot of the Hastings Cutoff then the drone turns to the right to show the California trail. Like back then there is nothing much to see out there.
Here is the Donner Party route through Wyoming.
Fort Laramie, Wyoming July 3 - July 5, 1846.
Little Sandy River, Wyoming July 18, 1846. The Donners and the Reeds turned left toward Fort Bridger and the entrance to Hastings Cutoff.
5. Fort Bridger, Wyoming July 24 - July 31, 1846. Expecting to be greeted by Lansford Hastings who would lead them through Hastings Cutoff, the Donner Party arrives at Fort Bridger only to find instructions left by Hastings.
For a better look at the actual fork in the road look at the video below and follow this link for a closeup photo. There is a small makeshift memorial at the fork.