Poets logo

Donner Pass

by Christopher Herald 2 months ago in surreal poetry

The Donner Party in rhyme

Donner Pass
Photo by Quentin Burgess on Unsplash

Eighteen hundred and forty-six

A little late in the spring

Migrating toward the setting sun

was a real fashionable thing

You've heard about Lansford Hastings?

He wrote an emigrant's guide

To encourage movement westward

and get folks across the divide

He'd exaggerate this shortcut

that runs through some rugged terrain

It's inaccurate at best

and crippled at least one campaign

There was an agenda at work

and a population to grow

There was this story to conjure

about a party we should know

Brothers George and Jacob Donner

farmers from Springfield, Illinois

Two American pioneers

who rode a wagon train convoy

They'd left from the land of Lincoln

for some place that they would fall short

They were headed to Californy

Sacramento to Sutter's Fort

And then there was the wagon boss

A fella who was named James Reed

He was from the same area

and on the same mission indeed

He actually SERVED with Lincoln

in something called the Black Hawk War

Back in 1831, I'd say

just to add to his folklore

A lavish prairie schooner

This double decker with some heat

The teamsters weren't James' biggest fans

or anyone's from the driver's seat

Comfortable like an RV

but at a lower RPM?

The “Pioneer Palace Car”

was a wagon geared more for THEM

James had a few dollar bills

and a wife that was not well

Margret's mother, dear Sarah Keyes

was suffering her own illness spell

They only packed for four months out

Can you imagine this effort?!

No U Haul van or pickup truck

to move households across the dirt

Just oxen and some bridalry

at a speed one could keep by foot

With each axle revolution

bobbles hard on one's occiput

The trails launched from Independence

Little quicker than a snail's pace

Feeling each inch on wooden tires

might not win any NASCAR race

They were looking to emigrate

9 covered wagons full of goods?

The future I-70 route

was amazon deep in some woods

23 adults and 16 kids

trekking across the universe

They joined this larger Russell group

and the 39 fully immerse

The rains came turning dirt to mud

and the “Palace” into a weight

A hindrance to those behind

and an object so many'd hate

Then there lies the Big Blue river

The water that would flood the plains

They were on the wrong side to start with

to serve the needs of this campaign's

It halted their cross country journey

When they started constructing their boats

Talk about soaked to the stockings

when they would test to see what floats

Sarah succumbed to consumption

which really oughta set the tone

The river proved too difficult

and she'd be the group's first tombstone

Two days later the levels eased

releasing the party to go

Casualties and dysentery

topped lists of concerns you should know

Now... The plan was supposed to save time

crossing the Wasatch mountain range

and through the salt flats of Utah

with an artistic rearrange

The route was mere speculation

and untested by its namesake

James had no inkling either

just how horrible the mistake

What was proposed isn't practical

for a wagon or an ox team

What he proposed spins nightmares

from such an American dream

Fort Laramie in Wyoming

And the party was a week late

James' friend Clyman was present

to set his compatriot straight

"The old route is wretched enough

You oughta not try something cute

Don't follow this work of fiction

in your western seeking pursuit”

Jimmy wouldn't be dissuaded

by all his well meaning warners

He was looking to giddy up

and to cut some major corners

On Independence Rock's approach

a courier would intercept

Lans was eager to tag along

and THEY were eager to accept

“We'll rendezvous in Fort Bridger”

But you'll never guess who didn't show

He left with an earlier team

“Feel free to catch up as we go”

The group was ravaged by infighting

and the party split into two

Some opting to heed the warnings

while the smaller group still played through

George Donner would be their leader

Which rubbed our protagonist raw

James Reed might have had a temper

and might have been loose with his jaw

At a river near a canyon

Back peddling perhaps a bit

A note was posted for them, perhaps

Lansford would finally admit

The trail wasn't as clear as he'd thought

But he shall find a better way

Just kick back and relax a bit

He'll help out should they decide to stay

James and two of his sons broke off

after eight days of no contact

The calendar was running out

for the proper time to react

A side note for your interest

about the group Landsford was with

They were lost and starving to death

Just perpetuating the myth

James managed to find the man

who managed to point out a path

that's input output ratio

does not work when you do the math

The wagon train turned trail blazer

and EVERYONE was mad

From pilot to the group scapegoat

because this route he chose was bad

The sand was hard on their progress

Numbers of oxen were left to die

When the party reached Humboldt Sink

their cattle was pilfered, oh my

A native American tribe

stole right out from under their nose

Have YOU been on a trip like this?

This is how the legend goes

James Reed killed a man in a fight

over his treatment of an ox

and was banished from the party

over hanging him; there were talks

Then they left an elderly man

to die on the side of the road

He grew too weak to continue

and this is a dark episode

Snow even hits a MONTH early

when they reach the Sierra Nevadas

I'VE seen first hand how BAD it gets

and can imagine how it was

This stranded them for many months

and of course they ran out of food

Feasting upon bones of livestock

and leather won't brighten a mood

After eating tree bark and hide

and the roofs of their makeshift tents

They served up their dead comrades

which only makes horrible sense

Remember how James splintered off

Leaving his family behind

He was banished from the party

with great prejudice, I remind

When they never made it across

he tried to go and rescue 'em

The weather hindered his progress

and proved too difficult for some

James Reed did what he had to do

and reenlisted in the army

Went to go fight the Mexicans

and made it out to a degree

After which he gathered a crew

to hunt down the Donner Party

Reunited with family

and the rest is just history

surreal poetry

Christopher Herald

Receive stories by Christopher Herald in your feed
Christopher Herald
Read next: Painful love

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2021 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.