When I began researching my old home online, the first thing that popped up were the many legends that surround the town I live in. Tales of angered spirits of nations of people whose graves had been desecrated in the name of progress were in abundance. Mysterious stories of a settlement that had survived the “deep snow” of 1830 in a Donner party fashion. Murder and mayhem in the area of town known as Hell’s Hollow, as well as the myriad of other stories that are presented…all lead one to believe that my town is one very haunted place!
However…when you go to other cities and states websites…you will find almost the exact same stories. Some of the settings are different..but the backdrop of the stories is always the same.
One legend that comes to mind is the “bobbing railroad light”. This is supposed to be a ghost of an old railroad worker who had been accidentally hit (and often decapitated) who wanders the night looking for his head. You can find almost the exact same story verbatim in many different places.
Another is the “crying lady”. In many cases this is a jilted bride or a woman who was supposed to meet a secret lover and run away…only to find out that their intended had been killed. Again, this is such a common theme in so many places of legend…and yet the legend had to start somewhere.
I do think that in many of these legends is a grain of truth. For centuries, tales were passed down by word of mouth…and bits of these stories were lost along the way. It’s my opinion that to make up for some of these lost parts…some things were added from stories that had been heard before and had a similar theme.
The legend of the settlers resorting to cannibalism is one such story. Records show that the settlement existed…and the Deep Snow of 1830-1831 is a matter of public record. I was looking on ancestry.com, and discovered that Abraham Lincoln himself had wintered just ten miles southeast of here during this time. He and his family had been traveling from Indiana, and the deep snow and cold had forced them to settle just outside of our town that winter.
However, the Donner party tale got started because the settlers left the area as soon as the spring thaw began. The townspeople began speculating how the isolated settlement had survived…and put their own spin on it. Certainly made for a spooky tale…but no facts to back it up.
Still…I enjoy a good legend. However, I have to say….I enjoy finding out the bits of truth that can show themselves during research even more. Sometimes there is a more fascinating story to be told!
But the Donner Party tale did happen. Perhaps not the cannibalism, but the rest of it certainly did. Even to this day, your best bet for traveling through Donner Pass is in the blazing heat of summer so you know there won’t be any snow. I should know. When I lived in California, my friends had to go that way to visit their daughter in Reno.
Oh I know what happened in the Donner Party was real. The legend of a similar happening where I’m from is what I have some doubts on…mainly because there’s no real evidence of it. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen…just that I can’t prove that it happened. From what I understood of the Donner Party tragedy was that it had been confirmed by the survivors of what had to be done.
Whatever happened in my home town is unclear…those settlers left after the deep snow, and never returned. The record of the settlement exists..but nothing as to what happened to them. The cannibalism that was talked about was gossip from the town from everything I have been able to gather…gossip that grew with the years.