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Inventory of the Eliza Poor Donner Houghton Papers, 1820-1978
HM 58111-58197  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Note
  • Organization
  • Scope and Content

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Eliza Poor Donner Houghton Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1820-1978
    Collection number: HM 58111-58197
    Acquisition number: 1738
    Creator: Houghton, Eliza Poor Donner
    Extent: 4 boxes
    Repository: The Huntington Library
    San Marino, California 91108
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    This collection was a gift to the Huntington Library from John S. Houghton and Anne Houghton Smith in March 1995.


    Collection is open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information please go to following URL .

    Publication Rights

    In order to quote from, publish, or reproduce any of the manuscripts or visual materials, researchers must obtain formal permission from the office of the Library Director. In most instances, permission is given by the Huntington as owner of the physical property rights only, and researchers must also obtain permission from the holder of the literary rights. In some instances, the Huntington owns the literary rights, as well as the physical property rights. Researchers may contact the appropriate curator for further information.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Eliza Poor Donner Houghton Papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Biographical Note

    Eliza Poor Donner Houghton (1843-1922), the youngest daughter of George and Tamsen Donner, was three years old when her family left their home in Illinois to head out west to California. This group of travelers, who became trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1846, ultimately became known as the ill-fated Donner Party. In March 1847, after several months of entrapment, Eliza and her sisters were rescued by the third relief party to reach the camps. George and Tamsen Donner both died in the mountains, and Eliza and her sister Georgia were taken in by Christian and Mary Brunner, elderly immigrants from Switzerland. In 1854, Eliza moved to Sacramento to live with her oldest half-sister, Elitha Donner Wilder, also a survivor of the Donner Party.
    In 1861, Eliza married Sherman Otis Houghton (1828-1914), the widower of Mary Donner, Eliza's cousin and fellow Donner Party survivor. Sherman Houghton was a prominent lawyer in San Jose who served in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1871-1875. Eliza's experience with the Donner Party was the defining event of her life; she kept in contact with fellow survivors and documented their stories. Eliza wanted to tell the true account of the Donner Party, and while doing her research for her book, she became very interested in the history of California and the pioneers who came to this new land. In 1911 she published her book, The Expedition of the Donner Party and Its Tragic Fate. The first half of this book gives Eliza's account of the events in the winter of 1846-47. In the second half of the book, Eliza tells of her life growing up in Sonoma and Sacramento in the 1850s, and her memories of "gold fever." The book ends with her marriage in 1861. Eliza attended the dedication ceremony of the Pioneer (Donner) Monument, near Truckee, California, in 1918 with fellow survivors Francis Donner Wilder and Patty Reed Lewis. Eliza died in Los Angeles in 1922.


    The collection contains 89 cataloged items, including 49 pieces of correspondence and three oversize items. The collection spans the period 1820-1978, but the bulk of the material is from 1900-1920. The collection is alphabetically arranged by author in the following series:
    • 1. Manuscripts and Notes (Box 1)
    • 2. Correspondence (Box 2)
    • 3. Manuscripts and Ephemera (Box 3)
    • 4. Land Tracts (Box 4)
    • 5. Oversize Items

    Scope and Content

    The collection contains correspondence, notebooks, manuscripts, land tracts, scrapbooks, cartes-de-visites and ephemera. Although the majority of the material in the collection deals with the Donner Party, several items written by Eliza Poor Donner Houghton deal with California history. These items are chiefly about the discovery of gold in California in 1849 and its effect on American history and the development of California as a state. In addition to Eliza, nine other Donner Party members are represented in this collection, both in correspondence and photographs.
    About half of the 49 pieces of correspondence (1910-1918) deal with the planning, building and dedication of the Pioneer (Donner) Monument; most of this correspondence consists of letters between Eliza Poor Donner Houghton and C. W. Chapman, the Chairman of the Donner Monument Committee. There are also seven letters (1820-1842) by Tamsen Donner to her sister Elizabeth Eustis Poor, of which six were written before Tamsen's marriage to George Donner. The letter from Eliza to "My Children" was written immediately after her visit in 1884 with John Baptiste Trudeau, during which he gave his account of events at the mountain camps, his relationship with the Donners, his last words with George and Tamsen Donner, and his rescue by the third relief party. This letter contains material that Eliza did not publish in her book.
    The notebooks and manuscripts, all written by Eliza, deal either with the Donner Party or the history of California. There is an incomplete handwritten draft of The Expedition of the Donner Party and Its Tragic Fate. Although this draft is missing sections of the published book, it contains material that does not appear in the published version.
    The scrapbooks (1860-1920) contain mostly news clippings concerning Sherman Houghton's political career in California, although there are some clippings concerning the Donner Party.