The Smart Ones Got Through


There is, of course, no use arguing. The Donner Party has what it takes for a good story, even a dog—everything, you might say, except young love. So, when I drive past the massive bronze statue of the Donner Memorial and up over the pass, I think of these folk who endured and struggled, and died or lived, to produce what may be called the story of stories of the American frontier.

But as I drive over the pass, fighting the summer traffic of U.S. 40 or the winter blizzard, I also like to remember those earlier ones, to think of hawk-nosed Elisha Stevens; of Caleb Greenwood and “Old Man” Hitchcock; or gawky Moses Schallenberger, letting his comrades go on and facing death; of Mrs. Townsend, Moses’ sister, riding her Indian pony with the horseback party; of Martin Murphy and fantastic “Doc” Townsend; of Dennis Martin who knew about snowshoes.

These are the ones who discovered the pass and took the wagons over, who kept out of emergencies or had the wit and strength to overcome them, who did not make a good story by getting into trouble, but made history by keeping out of trouble.