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Amazingly scarce signatures of Donner and Reed of the 19th century’s famed Donner Party—a tragic tale in California’s history

Two items: Manuscript petition, signed “George Donner,” 7.25 x 12.5, dated February 16, 1840, to the County Commissioners, asking for the extension of the Jacksonville Road. Signed underneath by Donner and 37 others. In good condition, with a complete central horizontal separation, professional repairs and strengthening to intersecting folds, including one over Donner’s signature, and scattered light toning and soiling.

A manuscript petition, signed “James F. Reed,” 8 x 12.5, one page, both sides, no date, objecting to the annulment of the Bloomington Road. Signed at the conclusion by Reed, who has signed first, and also signed by 103 others. In very good condition, with some professional strengthening along intersecting folds, affecting several signatures, but not Reed’s, and scattered toning and soiling. Both are housed together in a tan half-morocco drop-box, gilt-stamped title on spine.

These documents derive from pioneers’ lives in Illinois, a period when Donner joined his neighbors in supporting the extension of a road and Reed ran several businesses, at times voicing his opinion on public matters. Like many people, Donner and Reed believed that greater things awaited them out west, and like many pioneers embarked with their families for California in the spring of 1846. After taking an ill-advised shortcut, Reed was banished from the group after killing a man during an argument in the fall of 1846. Reed forged ahead and reached a California settlement...the Donner Party and their covered wagons were trapped in the Sierra Nevada during the winter, with a few escaping starvation only by cannibalism. Reed’s efforts to rescue the families were hampered on several fronts—including the harsh winter and his participation in the Mexican-American War. By the time the first rescuers—including Reed himself—arrived in February 1847, most of the Donner Party were near death by starvation. Taking the 23 strongest survivors with them, leaving the others temporarily behind including Donner. Rescue parties would return two more times, but in the end, of the 87 people who entered the mountainous region, only 48 survived. Among the fatalities would be Donner, who was found dead by the last rescue team. Only four signatures of Reed are known to have appeared at auction, and only two of Donner. An amazing—and unfortunate—part of California history. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and RRAuction COA.

Bidding opens Monday, December 27
The auction closes on Wednesday, January 12, 2011


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