Vanik S. Eaddy, Ph. D.

William H. Eddy* was identified by George R. Stewart in his book, Ordeal by Hunger, as a carriage maker from Illinois.  According to Stewart, William H. Eddy was about 28 years of age in 1846 when he joined a wagon train from Springfield, Illinois bound for the Sacramento valley in California.  With him were his wife, Eleanor about 25 years of age, James P. Eddy who was five, and Margaret who was one year old.  This wagon train was named "The Donner Party" after George Donner who was elected their leader.  The wagon train failed in its objective to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains before the Winter and made history by taking the wrong route and becoming snowbound near Truckee Lake in California.  The lake was renamed "Donner Lake" in honor of the Donner Party.  This tragedy was caused by a series of bad decisions, poor advice, and negative circumstances.  They were starved into cannibalism before they could be rescued the following Spring.  Approximately half of them starved or were killed by cold in a stormy winter which covered makeshift cabins with over thirteen feet of snow and was probably a record cold for this area known for its extremely fierce weather.  The documentary of this event has produced a human saga of the ultimate in suffering, despair, and courage exceeding the extraordinary.

William Eddy was chronicled as a hero who demonstrated honesty in dealing with others, unselfishness in the face of inhuman callousness, courage beyond limit, and endurance greater than any man should ever be expected to demonstrate.  Stewart wrote, "He was... rough-and-ready, no man to be trifled with in a quarrel and for the same reason a man to be counted on in a pinch.  He was enterprising, straightforward, and much liked in the company.  Among them all he seems to have been the best hunter and the most skilled in the arts of the frontiersmen."  William Eddy lost his wife, children, and all of his personal property in this tragedy.  Margaret Eddy died in the snowbound camp at Donner Lake on February 5 or 6, 1847, Eleanor Eddy on February 7, 1847, and James P. Eddy during March, 1847.  This remarkable man survived to restore his fortune, remarry, and produce another family in California where he died in 1859 while still a young man of 43-45 years of age.  He was probably the first Eaddy to reach and settle in California in the westward expansion of the United States of America.  The story of his life appears similar to another man who should be well known to those who bear the name of Eaddy.  James Eddy was probably one of the first Eaddy's to settle in South Carolina.  He was known as a man of distinguished courage and also persevered against all obstacles to restore his family and wealth which were lost because of a shipwreck in a hurricane on the shores of Charleston, South Carolina during arrival in America.

Are we, with the name of Eaddy, related to William H. Eddy of the Donner Party?

Perhaps!  At this writing, the conclusion is a mere conjecture, but there are enough clues to establish the following hypothesis:

William H. Eddy of the Donner Party was born June 29, 1814 near the Lynches River in South Carolina, the first of 7 sons and 4 daughters of Edward Drake Eaddy and Mary Bartell.

The following statements support this hypothesis:

1. William Eddy, the eldest son of Edward Drake and Mary Bartell, was born on June 29, 1814 near the Lynches River in South Carolina.  He was never mentioned again in marriage, death, nor his father's will.  He simply dropped out of the family history.  It may be advanced that he either rebelled or left home at a young age to seek adventure and fortune in the Great American West.  If this be true, then at the age of 28-32 he had become established as a carriage maker in Belleville, Illinois and was ready to begin his move further westward.  William H. Eddy named his son James P. Eddy, perhaps in honor of James Eddy, I., II., or III., who would have been his great grandfather, father, and uncle, respectively.  It is possible that the decision to establish the family name as Eaddy was made after William had left home.**

3. Mary Bartell, the Mother of William Eddy was the daughter of Mary Irvin (Scottish) and Jacob Bartell (German).  He was a Hessian soldier in the Revolutionary War, was captured by the men of General Francis Marion, and chose to remain in America after the war ended.  Could this relationship explain why Eddy established friendship with wealthy Germans in Springfield, Illinois by the family names of Donner, Keseberg, Wolfinger, Spitzer, and Reinholt?  He was also well acquainted with a wealthy and aristocratic polish family named Reed, short for Reedowsky or Reednowsky.  He could have possibly spoken the German language and understood some of their customs which had been taught to him by his mother and other German relatives in South Carolina.

4. William Eddy possessed a moral code with deep seated values of honesty and fair play which closely paralleled those long cherished by the Eaddy Family in South Carolina.  This became evident in his willingness to share whatever he possessed, in spite of occasional harsh and inhumane treatment from his traveling companions.  The toil of climbing mountains, crossing deserts, and attacks by Indians depleted the team oxen and horses to the point where Eddy was left with only one oxen.  Eddy's wagon was loaned to one family and the remnants of his team were hitched to another wagon.  So great were the needs to spare the half-starved oxen and cows pulling the remaining wagons, they cached or destroyed nearly all their personal goods and men and women had to walk.  Eddy left behind his rifle which had been broken, but carried some bullets and powder in the event a rifle could be borrowed.  No one would take his children into a wagon, so he set out with five year old James on his back and his wife carried baby Margaret across the desert.  His children were dying of thirst, but no one would allow them to drink, even though some of the wagons had casks of water on board.  It was necessary for Eddy to threaten to kill one of the wagon owners if he interfered with taking sufficient water for his children.

Using a borrowed rifle, Eddy killed small game, mountain sheep, deer, ducks, geese, and a bear to share with the others after half was given to the owner of the rifle.  On one of these hunting outings, he observed the tracks of a large grizzly bear.  Ignoring caution of mountain men who scarcely dared to attack a grown bear with a black powder rifle, he began to track the beast and sighted him digging roots about ninety yards distant.  He concealed himself next to a large fir tree and placed his last bullet in his mouth.  The bear reared when struck by the first bullet and charged the puff of smoke.  With the bear charging furiously, Eddy poured the powder and rammed home the next bullet as the bear came around the tree.  The bear could not turn quickly because of the injury inflicted by the first shot.  Eddy dodged around the tree, came upon the bear from behind, and shot him in the shoulder.  Having no more bullets, the bear was dispatched by clubbing it over the head with the rifle until dead.  The bear was estimated to weigh over 800 pounds.  Eddy's exploits in this and other efforts to rescue the starving and freezing emigrants is an exemplar study in courage of the highest order.

5. William Eddy was an experienced hunter and woodsman, although he was not a "mountain man".  In spite of using a borrowed rifle, frequently being shot at by Indians, and braving unfamiliar mountain territory covered by snow, he succeeded in providing wild game to supplement the diet of his starving companions until the unusually harsh Winter drove all the game to lower elevations.  He demonstrated superior marksmanship, knowledge of the outdoor life, and survival skills.  Feats of endurance to travel over 50 miles through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the dead of winter with little or no food are legendary.  Most of this journey was made with his shoes and clothes torn to pieces.  He was in such an exhausted condition that the last 17 to 30 miles were made by being assisted or carried by friendly Indians.  He left blood in his tracks from frostbitten, frozen, and ruptured feet for the last six miles before reaching the safety of the Ritter house at Johnson's Ranch in the Sacramento Valley.  This trail of blood in the snow was used by rescue parties to retrace his journey.  They brought help and food for one other man and five women who had fallen exhausted by the wayside.  The "Snow-Shoers" had begun 33 days earlier as a party of 17 in their epic struggle to attempt to walk out of the mountains for help.  Eight men had died, two returned to camp, and the surviving five women and two men were brought to Johnson's Ranch starving, bleeding from frozen hands and feet, and nearly naked.

6. William Eddy was not a very religious man, according to Stewart, but during the snow shoe adventure he demonstrated a belief that God answers prayers.  This belief has consistently been a tenet of the faith shared by the Eaddy Family in South Carolina.  The snow-shoers had depleted their supplies of food and were on the verge of starvation.  Eddy and one of the female survivors had left the stragglers behind and were pressing onward.  He suggested they pray for help, something that neither was accustomed to doing regularly.  Upon arising from the snow, they came upon a place where a deer had rested the previous night and followed the tracks until coming upon the animal.  Eaddy attempted to place his rifle sights on the deer, but was too weak to hold the heavy weapon on target.  He swung the rifle up over the back of the buck, lowered the barrel in an arc until the sights were on target, and fired.  The wounded deer attempted to run away, but Eddy ran him down in the snow, caught him by the antlers, and killed the animal with his pocket knife.  This provision spared the two men and five women and allowed them to reach safety at Johnson's Ranch.

7. In just two and one half weeks, Eddy was out of bed and on his way back into the mountains with an organized relief party attempting to rescue his wife and children along with the other unfortunate settlers.  It must have been a bitter defeat upon arriving at the campsite to learn that his baby daughter had died of starvation, followed by his wife, and next his son who was neglected with no one left to care for him.  Even more devastating must have been the confession of one of the camp survivors, named Lewis Keseberg, that he had eaten the body of James P. Eddy.  Considerable evidence existed from hearsay that he might have killed the child first.  Other survivors accused him of killing and eating another child of the same age named Georgie Foster.  Georgie was the son of George Foster who survived in the snow-shoe escape with William Eddy and was one of four relief members who valiantly returned to rescue some of the trapped emigrants.  These "two fathers" were heroes in a lost cause, especially where it concerned their immediate family members.  They served their traveling companions with all they had, but received a most inhumanly callous reward in return.

Eddy threatened Keseberg to kill him if they should ever reach the safety of Sacramento, California.  He was preparing to make good his threat and would have done so had not James Reed and another friend convinced him to abandon his plans.  Ironically, when Reed had killed another man in self defense, it was Keseberg who had offered his wagon tongue to hang Reed and was instrumental in banishing him from the wagon train.

8. William Eddy demonstrated the will to live beyond ordinary measure, endurance exceeding his peers, and unlimited courage.  It is quite possible that he first learned and practiced these survival skills in the Lynches River Swamp in South Carolina under the mentorship of some hardy pioneer stock who were named Eddy or Eaddy.  Whether or not this assumption is true, the story of the Donner Party is worth reading because of its study of human behavior under the most demanding and extreme circumstances.

9. In a book, "Eddy Family in America" a legend indicated that William Eddy came from a family of seven brothers.  Edward Drake Eaddy (Eddy) of South Carolina was the father of seven boys and four girls.  The boys, in order were:  William, Taylor, Martin, Robert James, Sr., Gregory, Clark, and Oliver.

* The middle initial H. was used in association with William Eddy once in the Stewart text.  A local newspaper in Petaluma, California reported his death with the following notice in December, 1859.  "Died: In this city, 24th ult.  HENRY EDDY, late of Mass., a pioneer of 1846, and well known as the rescuer of the 'Donner Party', aged 43.  (SanFrancisco, St. Louis, and Mass. papers please copy.)"  (Elsewhere in that article, the location of his birth was stated as "probably" MA or RI.)

William Eddy of South Carolina appears not to have been given a middle name or perhaps the family Bible records might have omitted this detail.  He would have had a prominent uncle named Henry for whom the name could have been given.

** This variant spelling of the family name was used to identify the birth and marriages of James Eddy, I., James Eddy, II., and Edward Drake Eddy along with his brothers and sisters, as shown in a Bible owned by Dewey P. Eaddy, Indiantown Community, Williamsburg County, South Carolina.  The use of the Eaddy variant was begun and may have been decreed by James Eddy, II.  It was completed, with some exceptions, with the generation of his sons who were named Henry Eaddy, Edward Drake Eaddy, James Eaddy, III., and John Eaddy.  The change was evidenced in the later records of birth, marriage, death, and wills, etc.  This appears to indicate that the family must have generally agreed upon this form of the name about the time of the death of James Eddy, II. in 1819 and Edward Drake Eddy in 1848; because, both were christened with the family name of Eddy and their wills were produced with the Eaddy spelling.  The records reveal other variant spelling either in error or where the descendants may have preferred another form. See the Variant Spellings of the Eaddy Family Name feature story.


Morris, Melda. (1991). Family Bible Records. Hemingway, SC: Three Rivers Historical Society.

Stewart, George R. (1960). Ordeal by Hunger: The story of the Donner party (2nd. ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

The Educational Television Network. (1992). "The American Experience" The Donner Party.


Pg. 400                  Supplement

1165 (12585) WILLIAM H. EDDY, b. ca. 1817 (corr.), prob. in R.I. or Mass.; d. Dec. 24,
1859, at Petaluma (corr.), Calif., where he was bur.; on Dec. 3, 1877, his remains were reinterred in the S. B. Anderson plot in San Jose's Oak Hill Cem.; on May 30, 1949, a beautiful bronze and granite marker was placed on his grave, commemorating his heroism as leader of the Forlorn Hope group of the Donner Party (the granite of this marker was a boulder brought down from the Donner Lake campsite especially for the purpose mentioned); m. 1) ELEANOR (or ELINOR) ...; b. ca. 1821: d. Feb. 7, 1847, at Truckee Lake (now Donner Pass), Calif.; m. 2) July 1848, at Gilroy, Calif., Mrs. FLAVILLA (or FLORILLA) E. (INGERSOL) ALFRED; dau. of Chester and Lucretia (Benedick) Ingersol and widow of F. Alfred; div.; m. 3):  in 1858, Miss A. M. PARDEE of St. Louis, Mo.

In the spring of 1846, several persons from Ill. prepared to go to Calif. This small group was headed by the Donner brothers, George (aged 65) and Jacob (aged 70) of Springfield, Ill. Included in this group were Will Eddy, aged 28, of Belleville, Ill. (a carriage maker by trade), his wife, Eleanor, aged 26, and their 2 children, James P. and Margaret. Many such groups encamped at Independence, Mo., until such time as they were able to head West.   Among those traveling the full distance with the Donner group, Will Eddy seems to have been the best hunter and the most skilled in the arts of the frontiersman (from "Ordeal by Hunger," by George R. Stewart, Part 1, pp. 19-20).

After enduring many hardships, the Donner Party (as they became known) reached Salt Lake City where they had a choice of following the well- known Oregon Trail or taking the little known "Hasting's Cut-Off" which was supposed to save 3 or 4 weeks of travel.  The Donner brothers decided to take the latter route even though only one other group had chosen to go that way. A few members of their group joined another wagon train and took the longer route. However, a total of 70 persons, including the Eddy family, elected to go with the Donner brothers.  A few stragglers were picked up along the way, and the Donner Party eventually was credited with a total of 90 persons. The route they chose was treacherous.  They lost wagons. At night, the Indians raided their stock.  They nearly died of thirst on the desert.  One member of the party pushed ahead to Sutter's Fort (Calif.), and returned with provisions without which no one could have urvived.  In late Oct., when this group was camped just below Truckee Lake (33 miles from Reno, Nev., and 105 miles from Sacramento, Calif., in the section now known as Donner Pass), snow began to fall.  A long, hard winter was starting, much earlier than usual.  By the middle of Dec., food became dangerously low. Eddy and 14 other persons (including 5 women) started for help.  By the end of Dec., half of this rescue group had died of exhaustion, exposure, and starvation rations.  William Foster, Will Eddy, and the 5 women reached Sutter's Fort on Jan. 13, all too exhausted to try to take help back to those who remained by Truckee Lake.  Several rescue parties went in, each bringing out some of the survivors. Will Eddy did not recover enough to go back to the main body until the middle of March, when the 3rd rescue party went in.  By then, his wife and both children had died.  Of the original 90 members of the Donner Party (including 2 Indian guides), only 48 survived.  The terrible tragedy gave Donner Pass its name.  The snow of that winter of 1846-1847 had reached a height of 40 ft.; motorists of today, passing through the High Sierras, will find a monument to the Donner Expedition, recording this height (see Eddy Family Bulletin, no. 43, April 1954, p. (794).

After having lost his wife and 2 children in the tragedy at Donner Pass, William married again.  Reportedly, his 2nd wife was a niece of Robert Ingersoll; Judge Lilburn W. Boggs, former Gov. of Mo., performed the ceremony in Sonoma Co., Calif.

William is known to have made at least two return trips to the East. On Nov. 18, 1852, the San Francisco "Alta California" carried an item telling of William H. Eddy leaving via ship, for the Atlantic States where the purpose of his trip was to purchase stock.  In Apr. 1852 and in Jan. 1853, his presence is mentioned in local newspapers of Belleville, Ill.

William's 3rd wife may have been a school teacher.  A Mrs. Eddy advertised in the local (Petaluma, Calif.) paper, offering instructions devoted to "primary branches of an English education."  The classroom advertisement stopped shortly after William's death.  Very little is known of the 3rd wife. Research in St. Louis has disclosed nothing further, to date.

In Dec. 1859, the local newspaper of Petaluma carried the following death notice:  Died: In this city, 24th ult. HENRY EDDY, late of Mass., a pioneer of 1846, and well known as the rescuer of the 'Donner Party', aged 43. (San Francisco, St. Louis, and Mass. papers please copy.)"  Note that the name given here is Henry, which is probably his middle name.  In most reports of the Donner Party, he is referred to merely as Will Eddy, or as William H. Eddy.  Many books have been written, telling of the Donner Party.  But nowhere has the parentage of William Eddy been established.  By tradition he was one of seven brothers, perhaps born in Mass.  One source has stated that he was born in 1817, the son of Nathan Eddy of Providence, R.I.  To date, this Nathan is unidentified.

It has long been thought that he might be William H. Eddy (1930 book, p. 983, no. 9859), son of Barney Eddy. More recent research has disclosed that this William married Dec. 14, 1842, at Brookfield, Vt. to Mary Smith, and that he remained in VT. "all his long life."  Although he was "one of seven brothers," he definitely was not of the Donner Party.

More recently, further details have been learned about John Eddy (1930 book, p. 205, no. 1815), b. 1788 in N.Y.  Of his 7 sons and 5 daughters. born between 1812 and 1834, a few other facts are known about all except the son William, whose birth date is not known; the other 'fact' is that "he went to Calif. in the early days, and the family lost contact with him" (see 19743, William Eddy, p. 47).

Another Unconnected Branch of the Eddy family has the tradition that their ancestor, George W. Eddy (see index) was a brother of William Harvey Eddy of the Donner Party.  (Although all records Indicate William's middle initial was H., there seems to be a question as to his middle name.  Henry has been suggested most frequently, due principally to his death notice, above.  Harvey has now been suggested. And it should benoted that William's son, Alonzo, has as a middle name, Hensley.)  George W. (above) was a physician, b. ca. 1824, in Va., according to the 1850 Census of Perry Twp., Monroe Co., Ohio.  As his ancestry is not known", it is conceivable that his parents might have come from Mass. or R.I.

It is hoped that mention of family traditions (including one who went to Calif.) may help future researchers to learn the Identity of the parents of this William H. Eddy.

Children by 1st marriage (dates from "Grim Journey," by Hoffman Birney, p. vi,
     The Roll of the Donner Party):
     12586     JAMES P. EDDY, d. ca. Mar.10, 1847, aged 3 yrs., at Truckee Lake, Calif.
     12587     MARGARET EDDY, Feb. 4, 1847, aged 1 yr., at Truckee Lake, Calif.
Children by 2nd marriage, b. at San Jose, Calif.
     12588     ELEANOR P. EDDY, b. May 15, 1849 (corr.); m. in 1871, S. B. ANDERSON.
In 1877, her father's remains were reinterred in her husband's family plot in San Jose's Oak Hill Cem.  Eleanor's middle name is reportedly Prafetta.
     12589     JAMES KNOX EDDY, b. June 3, 1851 (see 1930 book, p. 1165, for further details).  Several reports quote his middle initial(s) as P. or R.P., instead of his having the middle name of Knox.
      1259 ALONZO HENSLEY EDDY, b. Mar.19, 1853; m. CHARLOTTE G. LIVINGSTON (corr.), dau. of Augustus A. and Eliza M. (Owen) Livingston, and reputedly a niece of I. M. Singer of sewing machine fame (see 1930 book, p. 1165, for further details).  Alonzo was a physician who lived in Ill., Wash., Colo., and in 1900, was living in San Jose, Calif.  At that time, his mother, Flavilla Eddy, traveled from Ill. to Calif. to spend the winter with her son.  An account of this trip,   as well as of her first overland journey to Calif. in 1847, was carried in the San Jose Mercury for Nov.22, 1900.

See:  "The Donner Party" by Daniel M. Rosen for an excellent presentation of this event at  http://members.aol.com/DanMRosen/donner/index.htm

See:  "The Donner Party Members" by Daniel Rosen for pictures of the Donner Party Members and scroll down to a picture of William Eddy at http://members.aol.com/DanMRosen/donner/members.htm

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