The Donner Party spent several weeks during the summer of 1846 cutting a wagon road through the Wasatch Mountains down into the Salt Lake Valley. Those precious weeks cost the lives of many Donner Party members months later when they became trapped by early snow in the eastern Sierras.
Those same precious weeks meant that the following year, Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24 instead of in mid-August, which provided the Mormons valuable additional time to plant and harvest crops before the winter of 1847-48 settled in (see "How the Donner Party affected the pioneers' arrival in the Salt Lake Valley," published July 21, 2015, on deseretnews.com).
A little-known, interesting fact about the Donner Party is that at one point during their journey, they traveled with the same wagon train as former Missouri Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs. He issued the infamous extermination order against members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in October 1838 at the height of conflict between Mormons and other Missouri residents.
To be clear, Boggs was not part of the Donner Party; rather, the Donner Party joined Boggs’ California-bound wagon train. Originally, Boggs had sought to be the leader of the wagon train but lost to William H. Russell, according to "Enemy of the Saints: The Biography of Governor Lilburn W. Boggs of Missouri" by Robert Nelson.
The Russell train, as it was originally called, was enormous. The census on May 11, 1846, counted 119 men, 59 women, 110 children, 700 cattle and 150 horses, according to the biography. About a week later, the Russell Party swelled in size by nearly 90 individuals as the Donner Party joined them at Indian Creek, Kansas. A few weeks later, in early June 1846, Russell resigned leadership; Boggs stepped up to fill the role. The California emigrants were now called the Boggs Party.
When they reached Fort Bridger, Wyoming, a division arose, according to the biography. The Donner Party, seeking to minimize travel time to California, wanted to take the untested but shorter Hastings Cutoff over the Great Salt Lake desert.
Boggs and his original group declined, preferring to take the well-known route to California that passed through Idaho, following portions of the Snake River, cutting south into Nevada, turning west toward California near the north end of the Ruby Mountains, following the Humboldt River, and then finding the Truckee River after the Carson Sink, crossing over the Sierras into the fertile lands of California, according to the biography.
Boggs and his caravan made it safely to California. Boggs settled first in Sonoma, California, where he worked as an alcalde, a business owner and the town postmaster, according to the biography. He later retired to Napa, California, where he died and was buried in the Tulocay Cemetery.
I have a somewhat personal connection to Boggs. I was born in Jackson County, Missouri, in 1972. Boggs’ extermination order was still on the books then; technically, it was still legal to kill Mormons in Missouri. The order was rescinded by Missouri Gov. Kit Bond on June 25, 1976 (see sos.mo.gov).
Taylor Halverson has doctorates in biblical studies and instructional technology. He is a BYU teaching and learning consultant. His website is at taylorhalverson.com. His views are his own.