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You Have Died of… Cannibalism | Oregon Trail

You Have Died of… Cannibalism | Oregon Trail

Well it’s the middle of November now, so
if you’re headed out Californi-way and you haven’t made it through the Sierra Nevadas
yet… I hope you have some fat friends with you. Before 1840…ish, if you wanted to get from
the United States out west, your only real option was to buy a $500 boat ticket and take
the 7 month, 15,000 mile trip around Cape Horn in South America. While cruises today are rather luxurious,
back in the 1840’s, when they still spelled Christmas like this … not so much. You could cut the time down by sailing to
Panama, trekking through the rainforest, and catching another boat, and assuming you didn’t
get eaten by a jaguar or catch diarrhea and die, you’d save yourself a whole $50. But in 1840, 13 people made the trip along
what would soon be known as the Oregon Trail… and this became by far the cheapest route,
costing between $150 and $200 per person, covering 2000 miles. While the Oregon Trail does technically refer
to this specific route, from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon, it’s also
the collective name given to the Oregon Trail, California Trail, Bozeman Trail, Mormon Trail, and a
few stage coach and pony express routes. Since most of these trails all go along the
same route before splitting off… for our purposes, we’re going to refer to all of
them as the Oregon Trail. Quick side note, if you wanted to go out west,
you first had to travel through the Midwest. Which is the exact same reason why this place
is called the Middle East. By 1849, 18,847 people had crossed the Oregon
Trail. How do we know the exact number? Because a number of forts were established
along the way which kept track of the travelers and protected them from… well there’s
no easy way to say this… from the Native Americans. Whose land the settlers were technically trespassing
through so… you know… The forts also provided good old capitalists
with places to set up shops and sell supplies, snake oils, and trail guides (this becomes
important later). There were also a number of people known as
wagon masters, who made a living taking settlers back and forth along the trail. But in 1849, use of the trail exploded. Why… well you’re smart, you probably know the answer already. It’s gold. In January 1848, gold was discovered in Sutter’s
Mill, California. And since they didn’t have the internet
or ravens yet, it took a year for everyone else to find out. The sudden influx of migrants became known
as the 49ers, which is where the name of the football team comes from. There were hundreds of ships left abandoned
in San Francisco Harbor because people only intended on making a one-way trip to strike
it rich. Over the next decade, the amount of people
using the Oregon Trail skyrocketed to a total of 296,300. This is what it looks like when 300,000 people,
their wagons and their oxen, all travel through the exact same place. There are several spots along the trail that
still look like this over 150 years later, where the soft limestone was slowly carved
down by hundreds of thousands of travelers all staying in the same ruts. Even if there appears to be a much easier
path right over there. Seriously, I didn’t go somewhere else to
get this shot, this is only a few feet away, I don’t get it. But these aren’t the only remnants left
by the travelers. On several spots along the Oregon Trail people
felt compelled to carve their name into the rock as a way to say “so and so was here.” Old habits die hard I guess. This is one spot known as Register Cliff. Where people carved their names, where they’re
from, and what year it… see? This is why we can’t have nice things, because
people like this, 150 years later making it look like they made the trip too. Wait, what? Why is the 4 backwards? I mean I guess that makes sense since they
spell Christmas like this, but the 4 is the correct way around right here… at least
be consistently wrong! This is another register site known as Independence
Rock… Named that way because if you didn’t make
it there by July 4th, you probably weren’t going to make it through the Sierra Nevadas
in time. Which is exactly what happened to the Donner
Party. They made it to Independence Rock two weeks
too late, on July 17th 1846. Now you may not think that two weeks is that
big of a problem, sometimes winter arrives a bit late, but sometimes it arrives early,
but the Starks are always right in the end. This was complicated by the fact that George
Donner bought one of the aforementioned trail trail guides… Are you traveling out west? Want to avoid all of those pesky Indians and
Mexican tolls? Would you like to shave 400 miles and two
weeks off of the trip? Of course you would! Then you need The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon
and California, the 1845 Pioneer’s Guide for the Westward Traveler, by Lansford W.
Hastings! Take the road less traveled. Call 1-800-55… You heard that right, the Hasting’s Cutoff
claimed to shave 400 miles off of the trip. Wyoming is 360 miles long end to end, so unless
the cutoff looked something like this… it obviously didn’t. In fact, it adds 150 miles. Combined with the fact that they were already
two weeks behind schedule… well… They made it to here by the beginning of November,
when they broke an axle and that very night were buried under snow drifts 60 feet high. A wagon train could travel 10-15 miles a day. They were only 2 or 3 days from the end of
the trail. On November 20, 1846, Patrick Breen starts
a diary which becomes the primary source of information for what happens next. It snows just about every day for the entire
month. By Thanksgiving, they have completely run
out of food. And on Christmas Eve, they draw
straws. Patrick Dolan loses, but being good Christians,
no one can bring themselves to actually do it. So they leave him to die to exposure. Which actually takes a lot longer than you
might think. The human body is incredibly resilient so
it doesn’t exactly happen overnight. On Christmas Day, Patrick Breen wrote:
“Offered our prayers to God this Cherimass morning. The prospect is appalling; but hope in God. Amen.” Mr. Dolan dies that night, and the next day,
they enjoy a nice Christmas feast. Crying and unable to look at each other the
entire time. Now you might be asking yourself why they
didn’t eat the people who had already died, and the answer is simple, the bodies were
buried and being good Christians, they didn’t want to dig up someone they already had a
funeral for… yet. They do later. Bodies are cut up and labeled so that nobody
accidentally eats their own family… because you know, you have to keep some sort of morals
right? They aren’t rescued until March 1847, 6
months later. Of the 89 people in the Donner Party, 41 died… 21 of them were cannibalized… including
George Donner, which makes sense I guess. Geez, did it get gloomy in here or what? In 1858 gold was discovered in Pike’s Peak
Colorado… yeah… yeah that’s happy right, everyone loves gold! This is where the Denver Nuggets get their
name. We seem to have a thing for naming sports
teams after things that happened over a hundred years ago. All of these gold rushes made the Oregon and
various other trails much more popular, at least until the 1860’s when two major events
happened. The first being the Civil War which you might
expect put somewhat of a damper on people traveling out west. But the second was the railroad, which followed
the same basic path as the Oregon and California trails. While it took almost a decade to complete,
the trail became heavily settled with a town springing up every 50 miles. The days of being a pioneer headed off into
the unknown beyond were numbered. When it was completed, it brought the trip
from several months down to only a few days, which basically ended the Oregon trail only
20 years after it started. These two simultaneous events just kind of
made the Oregon trail fall out of fashion. So those who could afford the few days railroad
trip out west obviously did. Why would you still take the over a thousand
mile trip on foot? Because you’re a Mormon. The tale of the Mormons is… interesting
– and probably deserves a video to itself *hint hint*. But the main point here is that they were
fleeing religious persecution and settled in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1847, which at
the time was outside of the United States. All through the 1850s and 60s, Mormons made
the trip from Nebraska to Utah, until they became the primary users of the trail. Especially for the poor European converts
who couldn’t afford to make the trip by rail. They were often so poor that they couldn’t
afford wagons and oxen and traveled by handcart instead. When we look back at history we often have
a problem with timescales. When talking about the fall of Rome, many
people take events that occurred over centuries and talk about them as if they all happened
within the same decade. With American History, we have the opposite
problem. The profession of cowboy only lasted 14 years…
although that doesn’t stop people from dressing up like one like it’s Halloween year-round,
but whatever. The Oregon Trail, for the most part, only
lasted about 20 years, and if we want to get fickle about it, was only in popular use for
about ten. While that might seem like a long time, it’s
still shorter than the war in Afghanistan so, you know, put some perspective on it. And the next time someone offers to sell you
a guide that will cut 400 miles off a trip by taking a shortcut, hopefully now, you’ll
know better. I want to quickly thank everyone who took
the survey I put up last week, your responses are great and I plan on putting out an analysis
on reddit in a few days. But in the meantime don’t forget to cannibalize
that subscribe button and follow me on facebook and twitter.

100 comments on “You Have Died of… Cannibalism | Oregon Trail

  1. What's this, a video on a Wednesday? Yes, I'm planning on making this my new regular upload day, let me know what you think! Although to be fair, I hope to get them out a little earlier in the day from now on.

    Survey results will be on the subreddit in a day or two.

  2. Cowboys and wagons west were popularized by television. Perhaps Buffalos Bill’s Wild West show might have also had something to do with the popularity of western lore. (1883)

  3. Hmmmm…. this Donner Party explanation seemed a little oversimplified but maybe that's because I listened to a 3 hour and 15 min podcast on it from Last Podcast On The Left. The cannibalism definitely wasn't as straight forward as you made it sound here, though

  4. Believe it or not, there was this German immigrant that was in the Donner Party who survived by cannibalizing someone and when he got to California, he opened a restaurant

  5. Dude, it was called cowboys and Indians. It’s not that cringeworthy. They killed us, we killed them. We had the numbers. It’s not right, it’s not fair, but if you’re going to talk like that about it I expect to see you cry blood when you talk about the holocaust and raise your fist in wrath against the almighty whenever you mention Stalin’s name.

  6. "The actual profession of cowboy only lasted 14 years…"

    How are you defining the "profession of cowboy"? It literally just refers to a "boy" who herds cattle.

  7. Until now the Native American perspective has been left out of the telling of the Donner tragedy, not because the wel mel ti did not remember the pioneers, but because they were never asked, or perhaps were not ready to share. Their oral tradition recalls the starving strangers who camped in an area that was unsuitable for that time of year. Taking pity on the pioneers, the northern Washoe attempted to feed them, leaving rabbit meat and wild potatoes near the camps. Another account states that they tried to bring the Donner Party a deer carcass, but were shot at as they approached. Later, some wel mel ti observed the migrants eating human remains. Fearing for their lives, the area's native inhabitants continued to watch the strangers but avoided further contact. These stories, and the archaeological evidence that appears to support them, certainly complicated my interpretation of the Donner Party event. The migrants at Alder Creek were not surviving in the mountains alone—the northern Washoe were there, and they had tried to help.

  8. i dont understand the 10 year cowboy thing. i have a friend who is a cowboy (rides horses and drives cattle) and as far as i know spanish colonists were the first cowboys soo. like 400 years ago.

  9. No strident, hysterical delivery? Subject researched?? Entertaining AND educational??? WTF is wrong with you??!! Subscribed.

  10. First video ive watched of yours since i found the ferret video. It took me by surprise not gonna lie, but i liked it

  11. Sports teams are often named for things that happened hundreds of years ago. The San Diego Padres baseball team gets there name from the Franciscan friars that helped establish San Diego in 1769. The Texas Rangers Law Enforcement Division was established in 1823. Nearly 150 years later, a Major League Baseball team in the Dallas-Fort Worth region would be named for it.

  12. I really thought you were going to say that the Mormons also cannibalized each other on their journey…

  13. I love that graffiti that says Kilgor was here 1992.

    I didn't notice a Kilgore drawn in there though.

  14. There's a local descendant of the Donners who says the cannibalism stuff never happened. My guess is she was lied to by family members. I mean, who would want to admit to it? From what little I've read, it seems to be common in starvation situations. The story of the whale ship Essex was particularly unsavory.

  15. I'm from Utah and almost all of my ancestors came across by wagon, by handcart or by train. My mother's ancestors came by wagon and handcart and my dad's came later after the transcontinental railroad was completed.

    As for the handcarts, you neglected to touch upon the Willie and Martin Handcart Company. They started out too late in the summer of 1856 and got caught in early October snowstorms in Wyoming. Before they were rescued later in the month, over 200 members from the companies died from starvation and cold.

  16. Skiing is a big thing in that part of the state. Kids and teachers in my school were often getting stranded up reno way.
    I said I could smell him, I didn't mean drowned him. Now your sink is going to smell too. But really, he looks like a nice dog or squirrel, or whatever he is.

  17. Conveniently, around 1859, the Comstock Lode was discovered in Nevada near Virginia City which basically lies on the California Trail (and is currently Highway 80). So what Nevada sports team was named after this massive silver discovery? None of them since it was basically this thick bluish mud that nobody realized was silver at first. It clogged their sluices and rockers and interfered with finding the fine gold bits.
    And then they realized it was rich in silver after having a handful of the much sent to an assayer.
    So Nevada became the Battle Born State having never fought in the Civil War.Or the Silver State, even though they were really looking for gold. You could call it the boiled miner state since the area is pretty active geothermally and a number of miners fell into scalding hot water sumps and died before they could be pulled out.

  18. The comments about Mormons not using the railroad is completely inaccurate. They did use the railroad. They would take it as far as they could and walk the rest of the way. The railroad wasn't completed to Utah until 1869. Brigham Young actually halted work on the Salt Lake Temple so they could supply men to work on the railroad because he saw this was needed.

    I unsubscribed from you because I realized you are not very careful in some of your research. Also, the playing of the background music from South Park was uncalled for.

  19. Please make a video about the Mormons. It would be awesome. The handcart trail that you mentioned was an interesting note in this history. Mormons gave european converts interest free loans in order to travel to Utah. They called it the "perpetual immigration fund". But they didn't give enough to afford the trip by rail. Hence, the handcarts.

  20. Umm… The actual profession of "cowboy" isn't really the limited to or synonymous with the narrow time period in which cattle drives existed. The Vaqueros predated "anglo" cowboys by hundreds of years, and my father worked as a cowboy in the 1970s, as others still work as cowboys today. Although the job a lot since the era of the cattle drives, many of the same skills are still in use.

  21. I paused this often because I simply couldn't keep up with all of the facts you were packing in there, buddy. Good show.

  22. 2:25 Fun note: these boats were used to reclaim land for San Francisco, by sinking the ships and burying them under dirt and junk. If you dig under north San Francisco, you'll find a bunch of old ships.
    This land reclamation was highly profitable, and people would buy tracts of water in the bay with the intention to fill it.

  23. 6:16 Word? They were eating each other for 6 months? I would just wing it and run probably after the 1st time I tried eating someone. I'm fucked either way.

  24. 8:08 boy, is that ever true! Not just with the fall of the Rome itself, but ancient history in general. Odd to consider, but cowboys were only a thing for about as long as the series "Bonanza" was on prime time, but they've been so essential American popular culture that we forget how short their time was.

  25. Is it true that the entire Cowboy culture was adopted by the Mexican culture who already resided in the west or southwest for a few centuries prior to the push west by wasps of that era. Who were already raising live stock including cattle and sheep, not to mention farming etc. It would be nice to know the truth.

  26. I thought literal cannibalism was a central tenet of Christianity, especially the denominations who believe in transubstantiation… Wasn't that the whole point of the Eucharist?

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