Pioneering Spirit at Home in San Jose

Mid-19th Century pioneers making their way to the western frontier often settled in San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley.

Among them were Dr. John Townsend and his brother-in-law, Moses Schallenberger, members of the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party that successfully navigated the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada to reach California in 1845. Dr. Townsend and his wife both died in 1850 while treating victims of a cholera outbreak in San Jose.

Samuel S. Young lived and died in San Jose after coming west with the Harlan-Young Party of 1846-47, which was just ahead of the ill-fated Donner Party.

The Donner Party, a poorly-led endeavor that resulted in the group getting stranded in the Sierra during the deadly 1946-47 winter, was eventually rescued by a relief party led by James Frazier Reed. Reed had been banished from the party before the caravan reached the Sierra, and made his way safely to California to await his family. He briefly served in the California Rebellion that winter before rescuing his family and surviving members of the Donner Party, and eventually settled and married in San Jose before moving to Sonoma County.

Other Donner Party survivors who lived in San Jose include Patty Reed, George Donner, Jr. and Mary Donner (children of Jacob Donner, one of the Donner Party’s doomed leaders), William McCutchen and William Eddy. All are buried in the pioneer section of San Jose’s Oak Hill memorial Park, and several have lent their names to San Jose streets.

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