John Denton of the Donner Party
(For more information about
the Donner Party and John Denton, please read the actual diaries of
survivors on these sites: Kristin Johnson's
great new site,
information about this John Denton can be found
Donner Party and Dan Rosen's
Kristin Johnson has written a book about the
Donner Party, "Unfortunate Emigrants, Narratives of the Donner
Party". If you only visit one Donner Party web site, be sure to
make it Kristin's!
excellent books about the Donner Party are ORDEAL BY HUNGER by George R
Stewart and HISTORY OF THE DONNER PARTY (A Tragedy of the Sierra) by C. F.
McGlashan. They should be in your local libraries and are well worth
reading. It seems that John Denton was an Englishman (which I take to mean
that he was born in England) and was traveling with the Donners as a
driver. He was a gunsmith and one account says he was well educated. He
died on the First Relief Party along the Yuba River.
when I first starting researching Dentons in Illinois I came upon a large
group of them who were from England. I didn't take notes (I was
inexperienced then) and this was probably an 1850 census so after the
Donner party. He was of the party of George and Jacob Donner from
Springfield, Sangamon County, and that may be where these English people
The following is from OVERLAND IN 1846 edited by Dale
Morgan (2 volumes): "Re: John Denton, v 1, page 304, from letter by
James F. Reed to his brother-in-law in Illinois. ... John Denton left with
the first company; he gave out on the way, I found him dead, covered him
with a counterpane, and buried him in the show, in the wildest of the wild
portion of the earth."
v 1, pg 325: "On the 3rd day and
emigrant named John Denton, exhausted by starvation and totally
snow-blind, gave out. He tried to keep up a hopeful and cheerful
appearance, but we knew he could not live much longer. We made a platform
of saplings, built a fire on it, cut some boughs for him to sit upon and
left him. This was imperatively necessary. The party who followed in our
trail from California found his dead body a few days after we had left
him, partially eaten by wolves."
v 2, page 718 from the CALIFORNIA
STAR, S.F., 10 April 1847: "The following lines are from the Journal
of Mr. John Denton, one of the unfortunate immigrants who perished during
the past winter in the California mountains. He was found dead on the
mountain having made an effort, with a few others, to cross. His journal
was taken from his pocket and brought in. It is said to contain many
interesting items in relation to the route from Missouri to the California
mountains and a graphic description of the sufferings of the unfortunate
party of which he was a member. The journal will probably in a few weeks
be placed in our hand." (This poem followed, the text of which is also in
the McGlashan book):
- Oh! after many
How sweet it is to come
To the dwelling-place of
Our first and dearest home.
To turn away our wearied
From proud ambition’s towers,
And wander in those summer
The scene of boyhood’s hours.
- But I am changed
since last I gazed
on yonder tranquil scene,
And sat beneath the
That shades the village green;
And watched my boat
upon the brook
As it were a regal galley,
And sighed not for a joy
Beyond the happy valley.
- I wish I could
recall once more
That bright and blissful joy,
And summon to my
- The feelings of a
But I look on scenes of past delight
Without my wonted
As a miser on the bed of death
Looks coldly on his
page 796 - "If it is true that Denton kept a journal what happened to it
is unknown. Little more is known of him than Thornton's remark, at the
time he (Denton) carved a headstone for Sarah Keyes' grave, at the
crossing of the Big Blue, that Denton was an Englishman from Sheffield. A
man of the same name was with Wyeth between 1834-36, but the literature of
1846 has no hint that the English John Denton had ever been in the West.
He had lived for some time in the Springfield area before taking the trail
in 1846. It will be seen that the "Star" does not specifically say that
Denton composed these lines while waiting in the snow for death to come,
an idea that has had a strong emotional appeal, from J. Quinn Thorntons'
time to the present. Thornton revised the poem ... etc."
History of Sangamon (IL) county has a lot about the Donner Party and some
of the members.