Historic Sites and Points of Interest in Nevada County

Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party in Donner Pass 2 September 2014
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Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party
Donner Pass Road
Donner Pass

The marker reads:

Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party of 1844
First Pioneer Wagons Over The Sierra Nevada

On May 22, 1844, this small wagon party of 50 men, women and children "jumped off" from Council Bluffs, Iowa, bound for California. These courageous pioneers were the first emigrants to take wagons over the Sierra Nevada, opening the Truckee Route of the California Trail.

The Murphy, Townsend, Miller, and Hitchcock families formed the main groups of the party. Caleb Greenwood was the hired guide, and Elisha Stephens was elected Captain of the wagon train.

After following the Oregon Trail to Fort Hall, Idaho, they turned away from the well-worn path and headed west into the unfamiliar Nevada desert. A Paiute Indian Chief showed them how to reach a river flowing from the Sierra Nevada, which they named "Truckee" in his honor.

Overcoming severe conditions, they followed the Truckee River to the base of the Sierra. Six members, on horseback, continued to follow the Truckee River and eventually arrived safely at Sutter's New Helvetia on December 10, 1844. Six of the wagons were left in the charge of two men, and young Moses Schallenberger, near Truckee Lake (present Donner Lake). Near this spot, with two feet of snow on the ground, they worked the remaining five wagons across the summit of the mighty Sierra Nevada on November 25, 1844.

Deepening snow forced them to camp near Big Bend, on the South Yuba River. Leaving the wagons with two men and the women and children, the remaining 17 men continued on to New Helvetia to seek help. Somehow, John Sutter persuaded the men to enlist in his forces taking part in a Mexican Civil War. Eventually the families were reunited, and all members (including two babies born on the way) arrived safely at Sutter's Fort in early March 1845.

Dedicated by the Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission
September 24, 1994.

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