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Reed (Virginia Elizabeth) Letter Collection
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Processing History
  • Scope and Contents
  • Preferred Citation
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Acquisition
  • Biographical Note
  • Inventory

  • Contributing Institution: Library and Archives at the Autry
    Title: Virginia Elizabeth Reed Letter Collection
    Creator: Murphy, Virginia Reed
    Creator: Watkins, Frances E. (Frances Emma)
    Creator: James, George Wharton
    Identifier/Call Number: MS.543
    Physical Description: 0.2 Linear Feet (12 folders)
    Date (inclusive): 1846-1981
    Date (bulk): 1846-1955
    Language of Material: English .

    Processing History

    Processed by Glenna Schroeder, circa 1977-1981. Finding aid completed by Holly Rose Larson, NHPRC Processing Archivist, 2012 October 3, made possible through grant funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commissions (NHPRC).

    Scope and Contents

    This collection contains letters written by Virginia Elizabeth Reed (later Virginia Reed Murphy), a member of the Donner Party, at age 12, as well as manuscripts written about her by George Wharton James and Frances Watkins. It also includes magazine articles and newspaper clippings from 1912-1955 regarding Reed and other Donner Party survivors, and photocopies from about 1981 of two postcards Reed sent to her grandchildren around 1918.

    Preferred Citation

    Virginia Elizabeth Reed Letter Collection, 1846-1981, Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum of the American West, Los Angeles; MS.543; [folder number] [folder title][date].

    Conditions Governing Use

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Autry Museum of the American West. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Research Services and Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Autry Museum of the American West as the custodian of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Conditions Governing Access

    Appointments to view materials are required. To make an appointment please visit https://theautry.org/research-collections/library-and-archives  and fill out the Researcher Application Form.


    Donation from George Wharton James estate, 1943 December and others through 1981.

    Biographical Note

    Virginia Elizabeth Reed Murphy (1834-1921) was 12 years old when her family joined the Donner Party in 1846 to travel to California. Daughter of Margaret Reed, step-daughter of James Reed, Virginia and her family were among the few survivors of the unfortunate wagon train. Virginia later wrote about the events in her book Across the Plains in the Donner Party. Once they reached California, the family settled in San Jose, where Virginia met and married John Marion Murphy in 1850. They had nine children together.



    1. Copy – (photographs of pages) of letter to cousin 16 May 1847 describing ordeal of Donnor Party 7 pages.
    2. Printed copy, with introduction by George R. Stewart jr. Westways (December 1934), T.C.C. of letter, C. – handwritten out – of letter
    3. Letter to Mrs. M. Gillespie – Edwardsville, Ill., 12 July 1846 – from Independence Rock, Kansas (written by Virginia) Original Letter from Josephine Gillespie Prickett sending the letter to Mr. (Henson) Robinson 24 May 1895 (Letter contains information on the death of Virginia's grandmother and the early part of the Donnor party's trip)
    4. Material for biography by George Wharton James – much concerning her conversion to Catholicism
    5. Article proofs for Masterkey May 1944 by Frances E. Watkins re: Reed letter (the July one)
    6. pages from Ave Maria magazine – Jan 1911 #1-4
    7. 21 c. Century Magazine v. 42 #53 pp. 409 – 426 – Narrative by V.E.B. Reed, Across the Plains with the Donnor Party 1846, With reprint Notre Dame Qtrly v. 5 #3 Jun 1913
    8. Touring Topics (Westways) Dec 1934 by George R. Stewart Jr., Clipping Pasadena Star News 20 Feb 1918 "Story of the Donnor Party as Told by Member" Virginia B. Reed Murphy by Charles E. Bond
    9. Misc group of clippings re: other survivors of the Donnor Party with Ruth Christenson correspondence 1981

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Frontier and pioneer life -- California
    Overland travel
    Donner Party
    Overland journeys to the Pacific