Patty Reed’s Dolly

Dolly In the severe winter of 1846 – 1847, while adult members of the desperate, snow-trapped Donner Party clung to their sanity with prayers and diary entries, one little girl held fast to a comforting icon from her Illinois home. Quite against her mother’s orders to leave parentally-unauthorized toys behind, eight year old Martha Reed (known as Patty to family and friends) snatched a tiny figurine from her dollhouse on the eve of the family’s departure for California.  Presumably, Mrs. Reed discovered her child’s deception early on; and presumably Patty played with it openly until dire circumstances forced the Reeds and others to abandon many of their wagons in the Utah desert. There, the children were instructed to bury all toys and non-essential items. Patty complied—except for “Dolly,” which she hid inside her dress.  Patty Reed was rescued from the bitter, four-month mountain ordeal by her father in March, 1847—a rescue that was another ordeal in itself.  By then she had acquired wisdom beyond her tender years and must have shrewdly guessed that the relief team would have tossed her treasure away as useless weight had they known she was carrying it. Only when she was safe in Bear Valley did Patty draw Dolly from her hiding place. She kept the doll until she died in 1923, decreeing that her large collection of Donner memorabilia was to be donated Sutter’s Fort on the 100th anniversary of the Donner Party tragedy, where Dolly is now on display.

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