New Study Suggests Donner Party Weren't Cannibals

Tales of the Donner Party, a group of 19th century American pioneers who were trapped in the Sierra Nevadas, have become the stuff of popular legend. The Donner Party supposedly resorted to cannibalism in order to survive the harsh winter conditions.

However, new research suggests that no cannibalism occurred.

Gwen Robbins, an assistant professor of biological anthropology at Appalachian State University, and her team studied the bones from the hearth at the Donner site. They were determined to be non-human.

"What we have demonstrated is that there is no evidence for cannibalism," said Robbins. "If the Donner Party did resort to cannibalism, the bones were treated in a different way (such as buried), or they were placed on the hearth last and could have since eroded."

Victorian Era journalists, who embellished the accounts provided by the 47 survivors, largely fueled the legend of the Donner Party cannibalism. The survivors, 11 men and 36 women and children, fiercely denied the allegations. Although one man, Louis Keseberg, filed and won a defamation suit, he was still forever known as Keseberg the Cannibal.


From the Upcoming ueue, submitted by Geekazoid.

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The archaeologist behind the story has issued a "correction" re-affirming that cannibalism did in fact occur in the Donner Party:

Daniel James Brown, author of
The Indifferent Stars Above:The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride
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cannibalism is one of the few subjects that still weirds me out, so I can totally understand wanting to believe these people didn't have to eat their friends and family. BUT. Why would people admit to doing this stuff if it never really went down? I don't think that's something you'd want to make up. "Yeah, had to eat my dad to survive. No big deal."
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There is plenty of evidence of cannibalism. Gwen Robbins was unable to find any using these bones for study, but what of all the other evidence? There has been an effort to clear the names of those involved to placate some of their descendants though.
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