The new trail turned out to be no shortcut. The trip was hard and slow, and some families had to abandon their supply wagons. The party also had to travel west across Utah’s Salt Desert. Food was scarce when the party reached the Sierra Nevada mountains in October, much later than it had planned.The trail the Donner party followed was called Hastings Cutoff. It was named for Lansford Hastings, a well, known western guide. A book by Hastings praising the shortcut helped convince the Donner party to take the trail.
An early blizzard trapped the Donner party in the mountains. The settlers hoped the weather would improve, but more snow fell. In December, some party members left on snowshoes to find help. The rest ate their animals and then the animals’ hides. Some of the settlers starved to death. Some survived by eating the flesh of their dead comrades. Only 40 people survived the terrible winter in the mountains.You can access a teacher’s guide and some other information here and find diary entries here.