Category Archives: Grandma Letters

Letter’s From Grandma Pat: Three-fingered Kenny and 4th of July Trivia

Happy 4th of July and be careful with those fireworks.

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter

july 4th

Howdy!  Hope that your week is going great and that you are having a lot of fun during your summer vacation from school.   However, fun, no matter how inviting or exciting, is never an excuse for not being careful and safe.  Brains were not made by God to set on a shelf, they are meant to be used. You have a good one, use it.

Which brings me to the point of this week’s letter…not blowing off your fingers or toes, or blinding yourself with fireworks. Fireworks are great fun to see, hear and have during our nation’s birthday celebration on the 4th of July.  However, they are dangerous and demand respect. I know its fun to shoot off a firecracker or two, but safe first!

I once knew a kid in high school that did not have respect for the power of gun powder. He became known as “Three-finger…

View original post 2,068 more words


Grandma Pat Letters: Your Parents Have Skipped School and Memorial Day…The Day of the Dead


Dear Kids,

These warm spring days sure feel good.  I bet you’d rather be playing outside than sitting in a school room.

When your parent’s were young, on the first really warm day of spring, I would check them out of school and we’d go have fun.  Wherever we went, it was outside! By the time they were in sixth grade the school staff expected me to show up and free my children to skip school, for one day.

Actually, I had my children skip school on the first warm day of spring each year for two reasons.  One, I just loved being with them and wanted to make memories with them.  The second reason that I checked them out of school was…I could.

Grandparents and parents are not perfect.  How’s that for a shocker!  There are many times that they are going to make decisions regarding you kids that they may wish they could change.  However, your parents are the people that know you best, and therefore know what is best for you. I strongly believe that loving parents are the only ones that have the sole responsibility and authority to make decisions about their children. Not the government, school administrators, teachers or social idea pushers.

Now,  I could have just lied to the school and called my children in sick on those special spring skip-school days. That would have been the easy and convenient thing to do.  However, that would have set a very poor example, don’t you think?  I had tried to teach my kids that lying is not acceptable, even when telling the truth may be uncomfortable or cause conflict.  I could do no less than follow my own advice.  Morals and ethics always count, especially when no one is looking.

So, your parents got on the bus and went to school never quite sure which day would be the day.  As soon as they were on the bus, I would change, get into the car and race to school at under 30 mph…as that is the speed limit here in town.  After they had been seated in their classroom, I would show up and check them out at the school’s office, “to spend a day with mom.”

Our school officials were great and never, ever gave me any trouble about on my practice of spending special and quality time with my children.  They were smart people and knew that no matter how many of them there may have been, I would still have had them outnumbered.

I bet you will be on summer vacation from school soon, because Memorial Day is just two weeks away.  That weekend is always advertised as the official beginning of a Minnesota summer.  Which is just nuts, because it seems like that weekend is almost always cold and rainy.  Besides Memorial Day is not even a holiday or a celebration, it is an observance….about death.

Memorial Day is about remembering the service and sacrifice of all of the military men and women who have died protecting and defending our nation.

I know you know about the Korean War and that your Great-Great-Uncle Wendell who died fighting in it.  But, you had two relatives that were killed in that war.

Yes, the same Korea that is now in the news everyday.  I do pray that after all these years that country can be peacefully return into fellowship with their neighbors and all of the nations in the world….but, that is another story.

The boys in our family that died were cousins.  They were killed about a month a part.  One, Eugene Kronbeck, had an artillery shell land on him.  Your great-grandpa has told me many times that Eugene never knew what hit him.  One second he was here, and BANG…..he was in heaven. Great-grandpa would say that just pieces must have been left of his cousin, because the casket was so light.  I think he thought the casket was actually empty.

Eugene Kronbeck.jpg
Eugene Kronbeck photo taken the morning he left for Korea Sept 20, 1951. He was killed in action Nov 25, 1951.

The other young man that did not come home was of course Wendell.  I have told you about him before.  I know, you know that he killed instantly by machine gun fire.  Click here to read the letter describing the circumstance of his death as told by another soldier who witnessed his demise.

Aviary Photo_130940619951454515
Wendell L. Larson.  KIA, Korea, Age 23. 

Many people get Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day confused or think that they are the same.  They are not. Veteran’s Day is for the living who are serving or have served in uniform. Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who died in war and their families.

Memorial Day is an important day.  It was first officially proclaimed by Civil War General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, on May 5, 1868 and called “Decoration Day.”  That first year the observance was scheduled to take place on May 30 and folks were asked to use the day to decorate the graves of the war dead.  I have often wondered if that time was chosen, because the spring flowers would be in bloom.

On that very first  “Decoration Day” General James Garfield, who would go on to be president and the second president to be assassinated in office, addressed a crowd of over 5,000 participants who decorated the over 20,000 graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C.

Now, if those folks after fighting and killing each other for four long years during the Civil War could work together just three years after the war ended, there is no excuse for all of the hateful nonsense that is going on in our country today.  Honestly, some people’s kids!

It took over 100 years for, “Decoration Day” to morph into Memorial Day.  In 1971 a federal law made Memorial Day a national observance to be held on the last Monday of May.

It is little wonder that people no longer know the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  During most of the wars of the past almost everyone knew someone directly affected…either the dead soldier or his family and friends. For example, during World War II more than one out of every ten people were in the military.  Now less than one percent serve.  That is less than one out of every hundred people.  Instead, of three kids in your class going in the military, now there would be three kids in your whole school.

We are a nation of over 320 million people, yet only 1.3 million actively serve in the military. Another 1 million are in the military reserves. The low number of people serving insulates the general public from the human costs of war.  That is why your grandma thinks that if a family does not have a member serving in the military when our nation is at war….they should be paying a hefty war tax. Not only would this unify the country behind the war effort, but would raise awareness of the human loss and cost of war.  It would also pay for war.

Ours is not the only family to have lost young men or women to war.  The total number of American’s who have lost their lives fighting for our nation in uniform is over 1.1 million.

During the Civil War, from 1861-1865, over 625,000 military deaths were recorded.
That’s more Americans than died in both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam combined.  The military death toll amounted to two percent of the total population at the time.  Today that would be equal to six million Americans dying in a war.

In World War II over 407,300 military deaths occurred which was .3 percent of the total population.  That would equal about  1,012,976 soldier deaths today.

So you see, there are lots and lots of families who will be honoring their war dead over Memorial Day….including your own.

Just what kind of people put their lives on the line for others? Well, they are the ones who are self-reliant, selfless, and self-sacrificing.  They think of others welfare before their own. They are not selfish, self-absorbed or self-serving.  They serve, because they love.

John 15:12-13 

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

So what type of people serve in the military…. the best!

When you kids are out and about on Memorial Day weekend, should you pass by a cemetery and see lots of small American flags fluttering in the wind, you will know that there are small flags on your family’s fallen soldier boys graves, and they, like all of the other men and women buried beneath those flags are our nation’s true heroes.

Have a great week!

Sending Lots of Hugs and Kiss!

Grandma Pat

Grandma Pat Letters: Cat Warfare….Abraham Lincoln, the Donner Party and the Zombie Apocalypse Catastrophe

Dear Kids,

I hope that you have put down the electronic gadgets that were your entertainment for the long cold winter days, and are outside enjoying Minnesota’s beautiful spring weather.  I had yellow finches, an oriole, a ruby-crested gross beak and an army of squirrels at my bird feeder so far this week. I have my new bird bath out there, but no birds have used it yet.

We sure did have a long cold winter this year.  Cold early and then blizzards through April.  Oh, well, it just makes one appreciate the other three seasons of the year so much more.

This past winter reminded me a very severe winter of long ago.  It is still considered one of the worst winters to ever hit the Sierra Nevada mountains.  It was the winter of 1846-47, and it trapped a group of emigrants bound for California in the mountains.  This group of folks became the infamous Donner Party….the “Cannibal Emigrants”.

In case you don’t know, cannibals are people who eat other people.  You have them in some of your video games. For the Donner Party cannibalism was no game…it was to survive.

There is so much more to the story of the Donner Party than just getting grossed out by their dining choices. It is a really good illustration of a really bad case of poor listening skills. An extreme example of what happens when good advice is ignored and the foretold disaster strikes with a vengeance.  Like when parent’s or grandparent’s advice is disreguarded, and there is nothing left to do but dry the inevitable tears.

They chose to take an untried shortcut, and, like with most untried shortcuts, this one led to…catastrophe.

The Donner Party was a group of 89 men, women and children that set out from Springfield, Illinois in 1846 to homestead in California. Yes, they were from the same town as Abraham Lincoln and knew him.  In fact, James Frazier Reed, a member of the Donner Party, and James Clyman, mountain man, actually fought in the same military company as Lincoln during the Black Hawk Indian War of 1832.

JamesMargaretReed-EJames and Margaret Reed, Springfield, Illinois residents and Donner Party members.  

Interestingly, the friendships with members of the Donner Party were not the only Lincoln connection. More than 163 years after the Donner disaster a set of military documents partially penned by the 16th U.S. president was found among Mr. Reed’s papers.

The documents were the official soldier lists for the company of mounted Illinois volunteers that Lincoln had joined. The documents show that Private Abraham Lincoln, was 23 years old, owned a horse worth $85 and had $15 of additional equipment.  Lincoln also had a government issued tent that he was to return at the end of his military service.

lincoln lawyer
Early Photograph of Abraham Lincoln

Several Lincoln scholars have confirmed that Lincoln had handwritten the title of one of the muster rolls.  A muster roll is a list of names a military officer uses to take attendance of his soldiers.  Just like a teacher would do at school. It reads, “Muster Roll of Captain Jacob M. Earleys [sic] Company of Mounted Volunteers Mustered out of the service of the United States By order of Brigadier General Atkinson of the United States army on White Water Rivers of Rock River on the 10th day of July 1832.”

Lincoln’s company never saw any military action, but he was elected captain. He later said this was one of his life’s greatest honors.  Years later speaking on the floor of Congress, Lincoln summarized his soldiering experience, “By the way, Mr. Speaker, did you know I am a military Hero? Yes sir; in the days of the Black Hawk war, I fought, bled, and came away…. I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes; and, although I never fainted from loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very hungry.”

Hunger was often a constant companion to those traveling west to California during the 1800’s.  They had to carry all of their food, and much of their water with them.  The small wagons pulled by either oxen, mules or horses had to contain everything needed to survive the almost 2,000 mile trip.

donner cover wagon with oxen
In the 1800’s there were no grocery stores along either the Oregon or California trails.  There was a trading post or two, but they were few and far between.  You had to take personal responsibility for your own welfare. So, to ensure your family’s survival all of  food needed for the entire journey was packed into your covered wagon.

A family would usually travel in one or two small sturdy wagons pulled by six to ten oxen.  They often had a milk cow or two along.  As the buffalo and other prairie fresh meat disappeared from over hunting, emigrants began to take cattle with them to provide a fresh meat.

There was no extra space inside one of those canvass covered ships of the prairies. They were filled to the brim.  Food for a family of four consisted of 600 lbs. of flour, 120 lbs. of biscuits, 400 lbs. of bacon, 60 lbs. of coffee, 4 lbs. of tea, 100 lbs. of sugar, and 200 lbs. of lard. In addition there were often sacks of rice and beans and dried fruit. When found on the trail, berries and other wild fruit were picked and made into jam or dried.

donner packed-wagon-watermark

In the spring of 1846 almost 500 fully packed wagons left Independence, Missouri, the starting place of the Oregon and California trails.  The very last group of pioneers to leave that spring were the 32 original members of the Reed and Donner families and their employees.

donner CaliforniaTrail

There was a tight travel schedule on the California Trail.  Wagon trains needed to head west in the spring as soon as the winters snows had melted, but after grass became available for their mules, horses, oxen and livestock.

donner WagonTrain

The best time to start out was mid to late April. That gave the travelers plenty of time to cross the prairies and deserts and reach the mountain passes well before snow began to fall.

The Donner party not only left last, but they had a late start.  They did not set out until May 12, which did not leave them with any extra time for trail troubles such as illness, broken wagons, bad weather or other natural disasters.

After their first week of travel, the Donner Party was joined by another group of fifty wagons. They traveled 450 miles their first month, but by June 16, they were obviously behind schedule and still had 200 miles to go before they reached Fort Laramie, Wyoming.

Reaching Wyoming was a big deal.  It was there that most wagon trains to California would choose, actually all of them but two and one of those was the Donner Party,  to follow the well-used traditional trail that went north through Idaho before dropping south and across Nevada or try the newly discovered “Hastings Cutoff.”

In 1846, a crook by the name of Lansford Hastings wrote a guide book that promised a straighter and faster route through the mountains and across the Great Salt Lake Desert.  While this idea sounded wonderful to trail weary travelers, there was a problem.  No one, had used this route with wagons not even Mr. Hastings himself!

At this point in  the Donner Party’s journey, James Reed accidentally met up with his old friend from Springfield, Illinois, James Clyman. An experienced mountain man, Clyman had just ridden his horse over Hastings’ trail.  He strongly advised the emigrants not to use the Hastings trail.  He told them, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it because you can’t take wagons that way. Go the old route. Be safe. You’ll perish.”

By July 18 the wagon train had traveled 1,000 miles.  They still had another 1,000 miles to go before they reached California.  On July 20 they were at the crossroads, the members of the wagon train had to decide whether to take the well-established path or try the new Hastings’ route.


Most of the members of the train chose to take the known route.  However, twenty wagons, including the nine belonging to the Reeds and Donners turned left towards Fort Bridger and the entrance to the “Hastings Cutoff.”  It was at this time that this wagon train officially became the Donner Party, when George Donner was elected to be their leader.

George Donner
George Donner

The “Hastings Cutoff” decision turned out to be a bad one. The trail itself almost killed off these poor folks long before they got trapped by snow in the mountains.  There really was no trail.  The pioneers had to make the trail themselves by cutting down trees.  Their progress slowed to about a mile and a half a day.   Rather than saving them time, Hastings’ shortcut ended up adding nearly a month and an extra 150 miles to the Donner Party’s journey. 

Donner salt Lake
Salt Lake Dessert

In the late August with desert temperatures soaring over 100 degrees, their thin oxen fatigued and their water supply nearly gone, the Donner Party began to cross the Salt Lake Desert. The desert crossing of 40 miles that had been promised by Hastings to take only two days, in reality was over 80 miles and took six days… great cost.

Although Donner Party members were called pioneers, many had left behind middle class affluent homes. They had been town folk. Few had the specific skills and experience necessary to travel through deserts and mountains.  They had no experience in making camps or compounds that protected their livestock. Nor did they know how to interact with Indians.

While no humans lives were lost during the desert crossing.  Oxen became so weak that they, and the wagons they pulled, were abandoned.  That means that all of the supplies in those wagons were lost.  The Reed’s lost nine of their ten oxen when the poor beasts became crazed with thirst, broke free and ran off.  More wagons had to be left behind. Cattle, horses and mules were lost to the desert.

Unfortunately the desert crossing was not the end of livestock loss for the Donner Party. The oxen, cattle, mules and horses that remained were now half-starved and very lean.  Some were too weak to go on and just died.  Others were chased away or killed by Indians.  Indians chased away all the horses owned by one family.  Therefore, another wagon filled with supplies was left behind.

In the dry terrain there was less and less grass which meant that the cattle wandered farther away to graze.  This presented an opportunity to the local Paiutes Indians who captured 18 one evening and a few days later shot another 21.  Indians have to eat too.

By the time they exited the desert, the wagon train had lost almost 100 oxen and cattle and was already running low on food supplies.  The Eddy family’s oxen were killed by Indians and their wagon abandoned.  The family had no food, and other families refused to even help feed their children. Forced to walk, the Eddy’s carried their hungry and thirsty children.  Margaret Reed and her children had also lost their wagon and were on foot.

The loss of human decency is like a ball… it picks up speed as it goes down hill. If the level of civilization in a society is measured by how its strongest members treat its weakest members, the Donner Party quickly became the poster child for the uncivilized.

Spite and selfishness quickly replaced kindness and generosity.  Soon, the cry of a hungry child did not matter unless it was your own.  Hearts hardened.  A seventy-year-old man was thrown out of the wagon in which he was riding.  The wagon’s owner telling him to walk or die.  A few days later the old fellow was last seen sitting next to a stream with feet so swollen they had split open.  He was never seen again.

A younger member of the group pleaded that they should help him.  Nobody listened to him.  All of the other members of the wagon train had decided that a seventy-year old man was a waste of resources. Which is a shame as maybe he was the one who knew how to catch trout, build a fish trap, cache meat above snow levels or make a roof that did not rot or leak.  There is more to human value than youth and physical strength.

A collective sigh of relief was breathed by the Donner Party once the desert was behind them.  Many of them thought the worse was over.


Donner Sierra Nevada
Sierra Nevada Mountains

The most difficult part of the trip was the last 100 miles where the emigrants, wagons and their tired animals had to cross over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  These are big mountains and are extremely steep.  There are over 500 different distinct peaks, some tower over 12,000 feet high.  Located so close to the ocean, this range of mountains naturally receives more snow than most of the other mountains ranges in western North America.

After losing an additional two months by taking the “Hastings Cutoff”, the Donner Party finally rejoined the traditional trail. (See map below.)  Sadly, it was now well into the month of October.


Fearing being caught in the mountains the exhausted wagon trail tried to speed up their progress by taking less time to rest themselves and their animals.  Tired and sick of all of the opportunities for personal and profession growth the trip had provided, they began to turn on each other. It wasn’t long before the have’s were charging the have not’s double for food.

Desperate to get over the mountains the Donner Party made one final push in late October.  Surely there was still plenty of time.  They had been told that the mountain passes would remain open until about the middle of November.

Donner Pass

As it turned out, they got there one day too late.

Snow began to fall.

One family did make it up the nearly vertical 1, 000 foot slope to Truckee Lake (now known as Donner Lake).  However, there were still three impossible miles to reach mountain’s summit.

Truckee Lake, now known as Donner Lake

Soon the pioneers were blanketed by 5-10 foot snow drifts.  The first storm lasted for eight days. Others followed. While they made many attempts to cross over the mountains, they were never successful.  The snow continued to fall, eventually reaching depths over twenty feet.

Trees cut off by the Donner Party show snow depth. 

The Donner party was stranded until relief parties from California could reach them and that took months.

And so the famine began…..

Members of the Breen, Graves, Reed, Murphy, Keseberg and Eddy families along with  their workers became stranded at Truckee Lake. They lived in three windowless pine log cabins with dirt floors and flat leaky roofs made out of ox hide or canvas.  There was a hole cut into the side of the cabin to go in or out.


The Breens occupied one cabin, the Eddys and Murphys another and the Reeds and Graves the last.  The Keseberg family lived in a lean-to attached to the Breen Cabin.  The group at Truckee Lake numbered about 60. Nineteen were men over 18, 12 were women and 29 were children. Six of the children were toddlers or younger.

The Donnor family set up tents several miles away by Alder Creek. These tents housed 21 people; 6 men, 3 women and 12 children.

Right from the beginning there was a food shortage. Each cabin horded their limited supply of food. As oxen died their frozen bodies were stacked.

The lake had not frozen over yet and they could see that there were Lake Trout, but those eastern town folks did not know how to catch trout.  Although, why they did not build a fish trap or blast them to the surface with either dynamite or a gun powder charge is beyond me.  Obviously, their great uncles did not fish with dynamite or teach them how to make fish traps like mine did.  Furthermore, it was shocking to learn that horse and oxen carcasses became exposed in the spring thaw.  If you didn’t have the strength to dig down to the meat, fire melts snow.

One fellow did shoot a bear, but that wasn’t much meat to share among so many people.

Desperation grew.  Still. there was no cannibalism…

Franklin Graves made 14 pairs of snowshoes out of parts from oxen harnesses and hide.  Then, on December 16, a group of 17 set off to attempt to get through the mountain pass and bring back help. They packed lightly and only took a six-day supply of food and a blanket each.  In addition the group were armed with a rifle, hatchet and a couple of pistols.  Two of those without snowshoes had to turn back almost right away.  The first evening out the party made one more set of snowshoes out of a pack saddle.

This Donner Party group became known as the “Forlorn Hope.”  They had a terrible time, just reaching the mountain’s summit.  It took almost three days. When they started down the other side the bright sunshine on the snow made most of them go “snowblind.” They couldn’t see, were running out of food and became lost.

After walking in the deep snow for another two days without food, it was proposed that they needed to kill one of their members to feed the others.  They drew straws, then did not have the heart to kill the person who lost.

On they went.  Only to have another blizzard stop them.

As they huddled together in the storm, two fellows died.  Another fellow went nuts, stripped himself naked and ran into the woods, only to return and die within a couple of hours.  One of the youngest members of the group was dying, to try and save him, the others decided to eat the dead naked guy.  Probably because he was already undressed and as fate would have it, he had been the first person to suggest they resort to cannibalism.

The next morning they processed the other three dead bodies to use as food.  They dried the meat so it would not rot, then carefully marked it to ensure that nobody ate their own relatives.  I guess thoughtfulness like that counts in moments like those.

Soon, they were again without food.  So they ate the leather in their snowshoes as they eyed their two Indian guides as potential nourishment.   The guides were tipped off to the murderous plans and took off.  Unfortunately about nine days later the pioneers found the Indians close to death laying in the snow. They shot them and ate them.  These poor Indians were the only people known to be murdered for food.

On January 12 the seven surviving members of the “Forlorn Hope” found help in an Indian camp.  The Indians took one look at these scary skeletal figures emerging from the dark forest and immediately decided the zombie apocalypse had begun and ran away.  Eventually, they returned and shared their food with their fellow human beings who were so very starved. The trip of the “Forlorn Hope” had taken 33 days.  Of the seven survivors only two were men.  All  five women had survived.

After the “Forlorn Hope” had left the Lake Truckee camp, two-thirds of those remaining were children.

Life at the camp went from bad to worse. Once food supplies were gone, the pioneers ate ox hide.  They boiled it into a nasty glue-like jelly.  Ox and horse bones were boiled again and again to make soup. The Murphy children ate the ox hide rug that was in front of the fire place.  Mice were caught an eaten. There is about 14 calories in a roasted mouse.

By January the situation had become so severe that the emigrants began eating the ox hide cabin roofs. Soon the lack of food made the people so weak that they spent most of their days in bed.

It became every family for themselves.  In fact, one day, the Graves family came to collect on a debt owed them by the Reeds. They took all of the Reeds ox hides leaving them with no food whatsoever.  Apparently, Mrs. Graves had forgotten the golden rule of doing onto others as you would want them to do for you.  I have read that the only family where all of the members survived, and that did not practice cannibalism, was the Reeds.  Mrs. Graves did not survive and got her just desserts by becoming someone’s dessert.

In California concerns over the missing wagon train caused people to organize several rescue attempts.  Early attempts failed, but on February 18 a rescue party finally reached the camp.  When they got there they did not see anyone.  All of the cabins were completely covered with snow.  Soon heads began to poke out of the snow. The rescue party shared food with the starving emigrants.

Twenty-three people were chosen to go with the rescue party, leaving twenty-one in the cabins at Truckee Lake and twelve at Alder Creek.

There were no deaths in the Donner Party between the departure of the first relief party and the arrival of the second.  This was probably due to them eating their dead.  This is when the cannibalism began in the camps.

The second relief party took 17 emigrants with them.  Only three were adults.  That left five people at the Truckee Lake camp.  At the Donner camp at Alder creek, Tamsen Donner, the mother, chose to stay with her husband who was slowly dying from an infection. She also kept three of their daughters with them.

During the five months that the Donner Party was stranded in the mountains, almost half of that time rescue teams knew where they were.  There were four relief teams and it took well over two months to get all of the survivors back to civilization. The last person to be rescued was Lewis Keseberg.  He was found in  April of 1847, completely crazy sitting among the have eaten bodies of his former companions.

Of the 89 emigrants who left Independence, Missouri on May 12, 1846, 42 died of disease or starvation.  Five people died before the party reached the mountains. 81 became stranded in the mountains.  Of those, more than half were younger than 18.

Age, gender and family support were the most important survival factors.  Those most likely to die were children under six and adult single males over the age 35.  Sixty-six percent of males aged between 20 and 39 died.

Women were more likely to survive, because of their naturally slow metabolism and extra body fat. That is the only light in this otherwise dark tale, I didn’t make me fat, nature did.

Children made up the vast majority of the the Donner Party survivors.  In fact, Isabella Breen, only a year old during that disastrous winter, lived to be ninety-years-old. She died in 1935.

Donner Breen
Isabella Breen

No adults over the age of 49 survived.

Of the dozen or so families that were in the Donner Party, only two families reached California without having any family members die…the Reeds and the Breens.  George and Jacob Donner, their wives and four of the children all died. William Eddy, lost his wife and two children.  The children of Jacob Donner, George Donner, and Franklin Graves were orphaned and most of the Murphy family died.

Donner Breen home
Breen home in San Juan Bautista, California

The story of the Donner party just goes to show that when people ignore the voice of experience, they do so at their own peril.  After a God-given encounter with James Clyman, a friend and frontier man, they chose to disregard his wise counsel and still take the “Hastings Cutoff.”  Their troubles really began when they came to the conclusion that they were smarter than the expert.

The Bible tells us over and over again that knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom.  Knowledge by itself can be dangerous.  Wisdom is superior to knowledge, because it combines knowledge with experience.  Wisdom requires a process of ripening and that takes time.

In truth, had the Donner party listened to the man who had knowledge and experience their cannibalistic catastrophe would never have taken place. They were less victims of happen chance than of pride. I guess in addition to ignoring the golden rule the Donner Party forgot that God tells us that pride comes before the fall or in their case…the snowfall.

I am not going to worry a bit about the grossness of this story, because I have seen the video games you play.

Have a great week and I love you very much.

Grandma Pat

Grandma Pat Letters: Cat Warfare….Lincoln Loved Cats, People and Our Union…..Political Cat Fight–November 8, 1864

Happy Birthday Abe Lincoln! Some history to celebrate your day!

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter

                           Abraham Lincoln in 1861                                  Dixie 

Dear Kids:

Howdy, I hope your week is going well and that you are pacing yourself with homework and Valentine treats.  Too much of either can make kids your age feel sick.  Actually, there are days when I feel sick just listening to all of the  political bickering on the news.  It’s probably best that video games were invented so you kids can avoid the never ending foolishness.

Although, in my day, we were just stuck watching the news. It was considered educational. We even had tests on it in school. They called it current events.  Which was nonsensical as many of us farm kids had no time to read newspapers and magazines.  Or, listen to…

View original post 2,156 more words

Grandma Pat Letters: Cat Warfare: Dr. Martin Luther King, England’s Two Black Queens and Abraham Lincoln

Dear Kids,

It is freezing out today, and boy did we get a lot of snow yesterday.  The most in seven years.  It’s suppose to be excellent snowman and snowball making snow.  I hope you are having fun playing outside.

Since, its so snowy and cold outside, I figured its a good day for me to stay inside, keep warm and write a letter.

I suppose you know that last week was Martin Luther King Day.  I sure hope that you had lessons in school learning about what a wonderful civil rights leader he was and how he died.  When I was young there wasn’t a Martin Luther King Day, because he was still alive.

    Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.                    Martin Luther

Just for the record Martin Luther and Martin Luther King are two separate people.  They did have somethings in common. They were both Christian pastors and fought for human rights.  However, Martin Luther was an old white guy who was a German professor of religion, composer, priest, and monk.  He began a movement called the protestant reformation.  Lutheran churches are named after him.

It is so important to learn about great men like Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King.   He taught that not liking or being mean to someone…anyone…because of the color of their skin is just wrong. Some people have this idea that they are better than others just, because of their skin color.  I am here to tell you that is utter rubbish!

I learned that lesson in Sunday School when I was only three years old.  One of the first Christian songs our teachers taught us kids was, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”   It goes like this,

“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.
Red, yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

Truer words were never spoken.

I remember Dr. Martin Luther King very well and especially the day he was assassinated.  At that time in our country’s history it seemed like there was just one assassination after another.

First, it was President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1969 in Dallas, Texas.  Then,  Dr. Rev. King  on April 4, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee, and just several months later President Kennedy’s brother Bobby was shot and killed campaigning to be president on June 6, 1968 in Los Angeles, California.

I was very young and so was television when President Kennedy was killed.  I do remember watching his funeral on a black and white television.  The image of his casket being pulled by horses stuck in my mind. I, also, remember news films of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and being afraid of the riots that followed his death.  I heard about Bobby Kennedy’s assassination on the radio.

Dr. King was only 39 years old when he died. That might seem old to you, but its not.  He was a young man in the prime of his life, about the same age as your parents.

Dr. King accomplished a lot during his few short years on this earth.  He was a highly respected leader in the Civil Rights movement. He devoted his life to saving souls for Jesus and ending the inequity and racism experienced by our black brothers and sisters that had never gone away since the end of the Civil War.

Dr. King helped end something called “Jim Crow” laws. In short, these laws separated white and black people.  By law black people could not use the same bathrooms or water fountains as white people.   I remember that I once went into a really expensive store and in their bathrooms each stall had a lock on it.  You had to use a dime to go to the bathroom.  I was a little kid, and thought that was terrible and felt bad that poor people couldn’t use those facilities.

So, imagine how awful it would have been to not be able to go in restaurants, on buses or attend a school just because of the color of your skin.  All “Jim Crow” laws were was slavery in another form.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The night before he was killed Dr. King delivered one of his most remembered speeches.  It is often called, “The Mountain Top Speech.”  One of  the more famous quotes from that speech goes like this,

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”  

Like Biblical Moses, who thousands of years before him had led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, neither Moses or Dr. King would never enter the promised land.  Moses died of old age on a mountain and Dr. King’s life ended just a few hours after he made this speech with an assassins bullet.

If genius is defined by making the complex simple, there is no doubt that Dr. King was a genius.  Dr. King summed up in one sentence the goal of how people should be treated no matter what the color of their skin when he said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Yes, people are still judged and found wanting just because of the color of their skin.  Take for example the bride to be of a English Prince Harry.  She is a beautiful young woman whose mother was black and father white.  There have been several news stories about how some people don’t think, that the bride is good enough to marry into the English Royal family, because one of her parent’s is black.

Rude comments such as these are the absolute the definition of the term, “catty.”  Which the dictionary defines as someone who is, “unkind, spiteful, mean, malicious, or critical.” 

cats fighting

I have always felt that people who are just mean or who judge individuals by the group are in desperate need of prayer.  However, in this case their nasty comments are just reflection of their own ignorance, because there already is “black” blood mingled with the blue blood of England’s royals.

England has already had two, “black” royal queens of England….Philippa and Sophie Charlotte.

Queen Philippa was born on June 24, 1314.  She died August 15, 1369.  Philippa was the daughter of a noble ruler who lived in what is now the country of Belgium. He was of “Moorish” descent, which meant he was black and his ancestors had come from Africa.

Queen Philippa

Philippa was King Edward III’s wife and England’s Queen-Consort. Theirs was an arranged political marriage.  That means their parents picked out who they had to marry.  How would you like that?

Edward’s father, King Edward II, sent a fellow to Philippa’s kingdom to check her out and report back.  The report came back as follows,

“The lady whom we saw has not uncomely hair, betwixt blue-black and brown. Her head is cleaned shaped; her forehead high and broad, and standing somewhat forward. Her face narrows between the eyes, and the lower part of her face is still more narrow and slender than the forehead. Her eyes are dark. Her nose is fairly smooth and even, save that is somewhat broad at the tip and flattened, yet it is no snub nose. Her nostrils are also broad, her mouth fairly wide. Her lips somewhat full and especially the lower lip…all her limbs are well set and unmaimed, and nought is amiss so far as a man may see. Moreover, she is brown of skin all over, and much like her father, and in all things she is pleasant enough, as it seems to us.”

Philippa is considered a “most royal” Queen-Consort of England.  Four of her great-great-grandfathers had been the kings….in France, Aragon, Naples and Hungary.  She was intelligent, a capable ruler when her husband was away from the palace making war and was known for her patience, kindness and mercy. She often pleaded for her husband to spare the lives of those who were sentenced to death.

Together Queen Philippa and King Edward III had thirteen children.  Their first child was born before Philippa was sixteen years old. Three of their children, a daughter and two sons, died from the black plague.  I already told you about the black plague.

Queen Philippa was very much respected and loved by the people England.  She promoted the arts, and was a sponsor of the famous author Geoffrey Chaucer. The Queen’s College at Oxford was founded in her honor.

Tomb effigy of Philippa of Hainault, Westminster Abbey.
Queen Philippa’s Tomb

The second of England’s black queens was Sophie Charlotte who was born in 1744.  Princess Sophie Charlotte was the eighth child born to Germany’s Charles Louis Fredrick and Elisabeth Albertina.  Her father died when she was only eight years old.

It was through her father that she inherited her black heritage.  There are six different royals lines directly connecting Sophie to Margarita de Castro y Sousa, the daughter of Alfonso III of Portugal and his mistress, Mourana Gil, an African of Moorish descent.

Queen Charolotte

While several generations separated both Philippa and Charolotte from their African or Moorish ancestors, the practice of marrying cousins practiced by the royalty in Europe kept that gene pool small and helps to explain why these two queens had dark skin.

Many of the people who knew them described them as having African features such as dark eyes, hair and skin.  Sir Walter Scott  wrote that Charolotte was “ill-colored” and called her family “a bunch of ill-colored orangutans.”  One prime minister once wrote of Queen Charlotte: “Her nose is too wide and her lips too thick.”   The Queen’s personal physician, Baron Stockmar,  described her as having, “a true mulatto face.”

So how did this German princess end up being Queen Charlotte of England and Ireland?Parents arranged the marriage. A marriage contract was signed.  She traveled from Germany to England, on September 8, 1761, within six hours of first stepping foot on English soil, at the age of 17, Sophie Charlotte married King George III.

King George III is the guy George Washington and his fellow Americans rebelled against to win our freedom. This king eventually went crazy, but that is another story.

On August 12, 1762, Queen Charlotte gave birth to their first child, a son who would become King George IV.  Their son Edward, Duct of Kent, was the father of Queen Victoria.

All together the royal couple produced 15 children.  Thirteen survived to adulthood.  Which was rare in those days as one out of even ten babies died before they were a year old and 30 percent of all children died before they were teenagers.  But, then the average life expectancy for people of the 18th century was just under 40 years of age.  Now, its almost 80 years.  Hurrah for modern medicine and vaccinations!

Queen Charlotte was a very great English Queen.  She, like Philippa, was a lover of art and music.  One of her music teachers was Johann Christian Bach.  When he was only eight years old, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart dedicated his Opus 3 to her.  She helped establish the famous Kew Gardens; a maternity hospital, the oldest in England; and was the Queen who introduced the Christmas tree to England.

Queen Charlotte is the great great-great grandmother of the present Queen Elizabeth II. Prince William’s little daughter is named after her.  Many cities around the world and in our country are named after her.

In the year 1818 two very great women died, Queen Charlotte and Nancy Lincoln. One lived in great palaces and the other in a one room log cabin with dirt floors. One was the mother of kings and queens who most people could not even name, and the other the mother of Abraham Lincoln, the most famous and admired president of our nation.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lincoln once said that all he was and could ever hope to be he owed to his mother.  He was merely nine years old when he watched his beloved mother suddenly die from sickness.  She was only 34 years old. Lincoln used a knife to whittle the wooden pegs that held his mother’s coffin together.


Lincoln would grow up to be the president that saved our Union during the Civil War and ended slavery.  Both he and Dr. King lost their lives to assassins because of their political convictions and while our nation still needed their leadership.

I think that had Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King lived at the same time and met, they would have been great friends.  For Lincoln wholeheartedly believed what Dr. King once said that,  “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Don’t forget that Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is coming up and send me some pictures of your snowmen.

Lots of love,

Grandma Pat




Grandma Pat Letter: Cat Warfare: Cats Predict Catastrophic Children’s Blizzard of January 12, 1888

Dear Kids:

I could not help but notice that at a school bus stop this morning there was a young person wearing shorts, with no jacket, hat or mittens.  It is a Minnesota January and it is cold!  Going outside in the winter not dressed for the weather demonstrates even less common sense than fashion sense.  Let me tell you, there can be very bad consequences for not dressing warm in the winter.

Did you hear on the news this morning about a meteorological phenomena called a “Bomb Cyclone.”   This type of weather event is not new, but it is still dangerous and deserving of respect.  Well over one hundred years ago there was another “Bomb Cyclone” a winter  blizzard or “White Hurricane” that hit Minnesota and its neighboring states on January 12, 1888.   It was named the “Children’s Blizzard.”

Scores Frozen 4

The day of the Children’s Blizzard began with an unusually beautiful coppery colored sky.  Folks who had been trapped for months by severe cold and snow inside of dark windowless sod houses or drafty wooden homes emerged into the bright daylight to be caressed by a soft warm “velvety” breeze from the south.  The morning only seemed to improve with each passing hour.  Soon, the temperature had risen above freezing and in some areas into the 40’s and 50’s.

“Carl Saltee, a 16-year-old Norwegian immigrant in Fortier, Minn., remembered that “on the 12th of January 1888 around noontime it was so warm it melted snow and ice from the window until after 1 p.m.”

This beautiful January morning energized everyone.  After being housebound for so long almost everyone found a reason to head outdoors.  Adults found work to do, and for the first time in weeks children went to school.

blizzard 4

Schools in those days were mostly one-room country schools.  I actually went to one of those when I was in first grade. It was a long walk across a field and neighbor’s cow pasture, filled with cows, to get there.  I remember being cold a lot.  My grandmother braided a rug for me to have under my desk to help keep my feet warm. Also, there were no indoor toilets we had to use outdoor outhouses which were back behind the school building.  Trudging through snow drifts with a full bladder and parking your little bare butt on a frosty cold splint-laden wooden toilet seat in sub-zero temperatures is an experience not soon  forgotten.

blizzard outhouse

The children in 1888 also had to walk to school.  Yes, they, too, used out houses to go poop at school and at home. No, there was not any toilet paper. Most of these people were so poor that they couldn’t afford paper for school lessons. They certainly would not throw the precious commodity down an outhouse hole.  Leaves, grass, hay or corn cobs roughly served the purpose.  Poison Ivy leaves were identified at a young age and were to be avoided at all costs.

Not knowing that a horrible storm was coming and with the weather so warm, many of the youngsters shed their heavy winter coats and boots to enjoy the freedom of traipsing across the prairies with no hats or mittens and sporting lighter attire and footwear.  Undeterred by the presence of a teacher and the prospect of actually learning something, the students arrived at school excited to see and play with their friends.  Soon they were all inside, at their desks and reciting lessons.

Today computers, radars and even satellites in outer space are used to help the National Weather Service predict weather. Weather forecasts, watches and warnings are communicated immediately to the public on cell phones, computers, television and radio. Even with all of the current state-of-the-art technology, weather reports are not always accurate, nor do people heed weather alerts.  But, imagine living in a time where the only mass communication was Morse Code, telegraphs and newspapers.

In 1870 the government assumed responsibility for weather data collection and forecasting.  That would be only five years after the Civil War ended and still six years before George Armstrong Custer was killed at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.  Soldiers from the signal corps were in charge of weather predictions.

Weather data was collected by observers who measured air pressure, wind speed and temperatures several times a day, then telegraphed their data to district offices.  The district office would then decide whether or not to issue any weather warnings.  For some reason no Cold Front Warning was issued by a human for the Children’s blizzard.

Cats on the other hand did try to warn their humans about the impeding catastrophic change in the weather.  Cat owners reported that the morning of the storm their felines acted very strangely and began chasing their own tails or spinning.  Obviously mimicking the spin in the atmosphere.

What made this storm so dangerous?  The time of day it struck, its viciousness and the utter lack of a warning.  The blizzard raced across more than 780 miles in 17 hours as it slammed into Nebraska, the Dakotas, Kansas, Colorado, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Temperatures fell almost 100 degrees in 24 hours. The temperature dropped 18 degrees in just the first three minutes of the storm.  Snow drifts were quickly 20-25 feet deep.


One minute the sun was shining and then,

“About 3:30, we heard a hideous roar. … At first we thought that it was the Omaha train which had been blocked and was trying to open the track. My wife and I were near the barn when the storm came as if it had slid out of sack. A hurricane-like wind blew, so that the snow drifted high in the air, and it became terribly cold. Within a few minutes, it was as dark as a cellar, and one could not see one’s hand in front of one’s face.”

Wind speeds were measured at above sixty miles an hour in Minneapolis and gusted to over eighty miles an hour.  Roofs were blown off. Homes collapsed.  While there was still plenty of light fluffy snow left from an earlier storm to blow around,

“This was not a storm of drifting lace snowflakes, but of flash-frozen droplets firing sideways from the sky, an onslaught of speeding ice needles moving at more than 60 miles per hour. Even without the whiteout conditions — climate experts call this zero/zero visibility — many people couldn’t see because the microscopic bits of ice literally froze their eyes shut.”

To see, frozen eyelids had to be torn open or torn off.

There was no escaping the power of the storm,

As Newspaperman Charles Morse, founder of the Lake Benton News in Lake Benton, Minnesota reported,

“It was astonishing the manner in which this fine stuff would be driven through the smallest aperture. My sleeping quarters were on the second floor leading off a hallway at the head of the stairs. … On arriving home I found the wind had forced open the door and the stairway was packed with snow, and when I reached my room I found my bed covered with several inches of snow which had filtered over the threshold and through the keyhole.”

The great tragedy of the blizzard was that most of those who died were children who were caught in the storm walking home from school and farmers.   It is estimated that over 235 people died, 213 were children.  Seventy people lost their lives in Minnesota.

Many people, even those walking very short distances, became lost in the blinding snow and froze to death.  People were actually found frozen to death standing up.  The Minneapolis Tribune reported that recovered bodies were frozen so solid that they “give forth a metallic sound” when struck. Both humans and animals died from suffocation. There were so many fine ice crystals in the air that it was impossible to breathe.


Many of the dead were found right away. Some bodies were not discovered until spring when the snow melted.  Others were never found, because wolves ate them.

Teachers, parents and other brave souls did their best to save lives.

“By forming in parties of ten each, taking a long rope and marching across the prairie in line, the villagers today found all the lost school children except one”

“Schoolteacher Seymour Dopp in Pawnee City, Nebraska, kept his 17 students at school when the storm began at 2 p.m. They stayed overnight, burning stockpiled wood to keep warm. The next day, parents made their way over five-foot snow drifts to rescue their children.”

“In Great Plains, South Dakota, two men rescued the children in a schoolhouse by tying a rope from the school to the nearest shelter to lead them to safety.”

Minnie Freeman, heroine of the Blizzard of 1888, 12_BLIZZARD1888
Minnie Freeman

Minnie Freeman, a teacher in Nebraska, successfully led her students to shelter after the storm tore the roof off of her one-room sod schoolhouse.  Another teacher wanted the parents of her students to know that they were safe inside the school so she had the children continuously ring the school bell all through the night.

Others were not so lucky.

“Lois Royce found herself trapped with three of her students in her schoolhouse. By 3 p.m., they had run out of heating fuel. Her boarding house was only 82 yards away, so she attempted to lead the children there. However, visibility was so poor that they became lost and the children, two nine-year-old boys and a six-year-old girl, froze to death. The teacher survived, but her feet were frostbitten and had to be amputated.”

“Ten-year-old Johnny Walsh of Avoca, Minn., froze to death trying to find his house.”

“Six children of James Baker froze to death while trying to make it home from school near Chester township, Minnesota. They were found with their arms entwining each other in the snow.”

Many times the rescuers themselves perished in the blinding storm.

“Norwegian immigrant Seselia Knutson became frantic when her husband, Knut, was trapped out in the blizzard. She went out to look for him and became so confused she froze to death under a sled just 40 steps from her front door.”

There were animals that rescued people from the storm.

Bear Claws the Heroic Dog

“Omaha Indians Charley Stabler and Rough Clouds were hunting and trapping muskrat and beaver along Beaver Creek near Genoa, Neb., with Stabler’s dog, Bear Claws. The young men took shelter under a tree, and snow drifted over them.

Stabler awoke the next morning. Rough Clouds was dead. Bear Claws was missing. Stabler could not break out of the tomb of ice and snow.

About noon Jan. 15, Stabler heard his dog whining and digging over his head. They both dug frantically and broke through the crust of snow. Stabler, with the dog at his side, crawled toward a dim light in the distance and fell against a farmhouse door. The farm family took him in and cared for his frozen hands and feet.

Bear Claws went on to the Omaha camp where he whined and whimpered until some of the men followed him to the farmhouse. The dog later led the men to the place where Rough Cloud’s body lay. Tracks in the snow showed that the dog had made many trips back and forth, trying to bring help to his master and friend.”

Leader of the Herd.

“A girl named Mary was out with the family cows in an Antelope County, Neb., field of corn stubble.

One of the old cows led the herd, and when it was time to take the cattle in, Mary would hold the old cow’s tail to walk home and the others would follow. The old cow started for home when the blinding storm hit. Mary grabbed the tail and was safely guided home.”

Old Blind Horse

“Theodore Peterson of Oakland, Neb., had been to the mill at Lyons to grind wheat for flour when he was caught in the storm. He was driving a wagon hitched to an old blind mare and another horse. The blind horse had been over the road many times without seeing it, so Peterson loosened the reins and let her find the way home.”

The Children’s Blizzard left its mark on the hearts, minds and bodies of many of its victims.  Families forever mourned the loss of their loved ones.  Towns would toll their school and church bells each year on the anniversary of the storm. Many people bore physical scars from their tangle with the bomb cyclone of January 1888.  Wooden legs, finger-less hands and missing ears announced that they had won the war and survived the blizzard, but had lost the fight with frostbite.

It’s effects also were forever remembered by your great-great-grandparents who actually survived that storm.  As a child I remember being told about a blizzard so bad that people lost their way trying to get from their barn back to their house and died wandering around in their field.  That is why from then on whenever winter set in, a rope was strung between our farmhouse and barn.

So when your mom and dad ask you to wear a coat, and put a hat and mittens in your backpack do it.  It is always better to be prepared and safe than lost in a prairie and sorry.

Then, too, if I ever see you kids waiting for a school bus wearing shorts without even a coat on a Minnesota January morning, I will conclude you are issuing a dare to look ridiculous.  I will accept the challenge and carry it out during your very next school event.  It will involve Grandpa’s Elmer Fudd hat and his rubber boots…the ones with the buckles.


Stay warm and toasty,


Grandma Pat









Grandma Pat Letters : Cat Warfare…A Very, Very Bad Cat!

The Swedish Farmer's Daughter


Dear Kids,

Hope you are having a great week. Christmas vacation is always a good time.  I really enjoyed our time together this week!

This week’s edition of “Cat Warfare” is the mustached “Herr Hitler Cat.”  Not only did this unfortunate cat look like Adolf Hitler, but he was a bad decision maker and actually hung out with guy.  Always, remember you can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you cannot pick your friend’s nose or your relatives. It is important to pick good friends, you don’t want any like this guy, because Adolf Hitler was a very, very bad cat!

Hitler started World War II in Europe.  Later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, but that is another story. However, Hitler started the war in Europe in 1939 when he invaded the country of Poland.   He lied about Poland attacking Germany, then invaded…

View original post 596 more words

%d bloggers like this: