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The Orphan Children of George and Tamsen Donner
Sutter, the Philanthropist
"If Mother would Only Come!"
Christian and Mary Brunner
An Enchanting Home
"Can't You Keep Both of Us?"
Eliza Donner Crossing the Torrent
Earning a Silver Dollar
The Gold Excitement
Getting an Education
Elitha C. Donner, Leanna C. Donner, Frances E. Donner, Georgia A. Donner, Eliza P. Donner.
Unusual interest attaches to the three little orphan children mentioned in a preceding chapter. Frances, Georgia, and Eliza Donner reached Sutter's Fort in April, 1847. Here they met their two elder sisters, who, in charge of the first relief party, had arrived at the Fort a few weeks earlier. The three little girls were pitiable-looking objects as they gathered around the blazing fire, answering and asking questions respecting what had taken place since they parted with their sisters at their mountain cabins.
Among the first to stretch forth a helping hand to clothe the needy children was that noble philanthropist, Capt. John A. Sutter. Other newly-found friends gave food from their scanty supplies, and the children would have been comfortable for a time, had not some pilfering hand taken all that had been given them. They were again obliged to ask for food of those whom they thought would give. As the weather became warmer it had a cheering influence over them. They forgot their wish for heavier clothing; but oftener repeated the more heartfelt one - " If mother would only come!"
Those who have suffered bereavement under similar circumstances can understand how fully these little girls realized their situation when they were told that their mother was dead.
Not long after it became known that their parents were dead, Georgia and Eliza enlisted the sympathies of a kindhearted Swiss couple, Christian and Mary Brunner, who lived a short distance from the Fort. Mrs. Brunner brought them bread, butter, eggs, and cheese, with the kind remark to those in whose hands she placed the articles: "These are for the little girls who called me grandma; but don't give them too much at a time." A few days later, upon inquiring of them how they liked what she brought, grandma was told they had not had anything, and was so surprised that she decided to take Georgia home with her for a week. Georgia was more delicate than her younger sister. Eliza was promised that she should be treated as kindly upon Georgia's return. The week passed, and Georgia returned, looking stronger. She told such wonderful stories about the many cows! lots of chickens! two sheep that would not let her pass unless she carried a big stick in sight! about the kindness grandma, grandpa, and Jacob, his brother, had shown to her, that it seemed to Eliza the time would never come when she and grandma were to start to that enchanting home! Such a week of pleasure! Who but that little girl could describe it! Grandma's bread and milk gave strength to her limbs and color to her cheeks. She chased the chickens, and drove the cows; she brought chips for grandma, rode the horse for Jacob, and sat upon grandpa's knee so cheerfully, that they began to feel as if she belonged to them. But her week had come to an end! Grandma, all dressed for a walk to the Fort, sought the little girl, who was busy at play, and said: "Come, Eliza, I hear that Georgia is sick, and I am going to take you back, and bring her in your place." The sweet little girl looked very grave for a moment, then glancing up with her large black eyes into that dear old face, she took courage, and asked, with the earnestness of an anxious child: "Grandma, can't you keep both of us?"
This simple question provided a home for both until after Hiram Miller was appointed their guardian. He was intrusted with their money, obtained from Keseberg and from other sources. The little sisters were then again separated. Frances had found a home in Mrs. Reed's family. Georgia was to go with grandpa, who was about to remove to Sonoma. Eliza went to her eldest sister, who was now married and living on the Cosumnes River. Here she remained until winter. Then, hearing that Mr. Brunner's family and Georgia desired her return, she became so homesick that her sister consented to her going to them. Fortunately, they heard of two families who were to move to Sonoma in a very short time, and Eliza was placed in their charge. This journey was marked with many incidents which seemed marvelous to her child-mind. The one which impressed itself most forcibly occurred upon their arrival at the bank of the Sonoma River. She was told that Jacob would meet her here and take her to grandma's, and was delighted that her journey was so nearly over. Imagine her disappointment at finding the recent rains had raised the river until a torrent flowed between her and her anxious friends. For days Jacob sought the slowly-decreasing flood and called across the rushing stream to cheer the eager child. Finally, an Indian, who understood Jacob's wish, offered to carry her safely over for a silver dollar. Never did silver look brighter than that which Jacob held between his fingers, above his head, that sunny morning, to satisfy the Indian that his price would be paid when he and his charge reached the other bank.
What a picture this scene presents to the mind! There is the Indian leading his gray pony to the river's side! He examines him carefully, and puts the blanket on more securely! He waits for the approaching child. How small she is - not five years old! How she trembles with dread as the swift current meets her eye! Yet she is anxious to go. One pleading look in the Indian's face, and she is ready. He mounts; she is placed behind him; her little arms are stretched tightly around his dusky form! He presses his elbows to his sides to made her more secure, and, by signs, warns her against loosening her grasp, or she, like the passing branches, will be the water's prey! They enter the stream. Oh how cold the water is! They reach the middle; her grasp is tighter, and she holds her breath with fear, for they are drifting with the current past where Jacob stands! But joy comes at last. They have crossed the river. There stands the pony, shaking the water from his sides. The Indian takes his dollar with a grunt of satisfaction, and Jacob catches up the little girl, mounts his horse, and hurries off to grandpa's, where grandma, Leanna, and Georgia are waiting to give her a warm welcome.
Months passed pleasantly, but gradually changes occurred. The war with Mexico ended, and gold was discovered. All the men who were able to go, hurried off to the mines to make a fortune. The little girls gave up their plays, for grandma was not able to do all the work, and grandpa and Jacob were away. They spent seven years with Mr. and Mrs. Brunner, They were kindly treated, but their education was neglected. In 1854, their eldest sister, Elitha, and her husband, came to Sonoma, and offered them a home and an opportunity of attending school. This kind offer was accepted. For six years Eliza remained in Sacramento, in the family of her sister, Elitha. To her she was indebted for the opportunity she enjoyed of attending, for one year, with her sister Frances and afterwards Georgia, St. Catherine's Academy, at Benicia, and the public schools of Sacramento.
Elitha C. Donner married Perry McCoon, who was subsequently killed by a runaway horse. On the eighth of December, 1853, Mrs. McCoon was married to Benj. W. Wilder. They reside on the Cosumnes River, a few miles from Elk Grove, Sacramento County, Cal., and have six children. Leanna C. Donner was married September 26, 1852, to John App. They now reside in Jamestown, Tuolumne County, Cal., and their family consists of Rebecca E., born February 9, 1854; John Q., born January 19, 1864; and Lucy E., born August 12, 1868, who reside with their parents.
Frances E. Donner was married November 24, 1858, to William R. Wilder, and now resides at Point of Timber, Contra Costa County, Cal. Their children are: Harriet, born August 24, 1859; James William, born May 30, 1863; Frances Lillian, born July 17, 1867; Asaph, born May 7, 1870; and Susan Tamsen, born September 3, 1878. Georgia A. Donner was married November 4, 1863, to W. A. Babcock. Their family consists of Henry A., born August 23, 1864; Frank B., born June 29, 1866; and Edith M., born August 24, 1868. Their address is Mountain View, Santa Clara County, Cal.
Eliza P. Donner, on the tenth of October, 1861, was married to Sherman O. Houghton. Mr. Houghton was born in New York City, April 10, 1828, served in the Mexican war, was Mayor of San Jose in 1855 and 1856, represented California in the Forty-second and Forty-third Congress, and is at present a prominent member of the San Jose bar. Mr. and Mrs. Houghton have six children. The youngest living was born in Washington, D. C., at which city his family resided during the four years he served as member of Congress. Their children are: Eliza P., Sherman O., Clara H., Charles D., Francis J., and Stanley W. Their youngest born, Herbert S., died March 18, 1878, aged twenty months. Mary M. Donner, daughter of Jacob Donner, was adopted into the family of Mr. James F. Reed, in 1848. She continued a member of this family until her marriage with Hon. S. O. Houghton, of San Jose, August 23, 1859. June 21, 1860, Mrs. Mary M. Houghton died, leaving an infant daughter, Mary M., who is now a young lady, and a member of the family of Mr. and Mrs. Houghton.
George Donner, Jr., son of Jacob Donner, married Miss Margaret J. Watson, June 8, 1862. Their children now living are: Mary E., Corn J., George W., John C., Betty L., and Frank M. Albert, their eldest, died in 1869, and an infant son died in 1875. George Donner, Jr., died at Sebastopol, February 17, 1874. Mrs. Donner now lives with her children on their farm near Sebastopol, Sonoma County, California.