What We Regret Most

This is a poem about the Donner Party for the historical fiction competition. It is told from the perspective of Mary and Sarah Graves. WARNING: There is cannibalism if that is something you don't want to read about.


1. What We Regret Most


Westward ho!

Who wants to go to California without it costing them anything?

G. Donner, the great George wants to lead us

We’ll get to Cali so fast no one will beat us

Donners, Reeds, Graves, Stanton, Russell

Pioneering, not fearing, joining wagon parties

We won’t be tardy, not stopping, ever hopping

In California we’ll have new opportunities

In California we’ll bring forth a whole new community


Lansford Hastings has a shortcut

Through Utah we would go

To get to Cali before the others

First ones there get the land, their own brand

A place to call their own, first pick

Don’t be sick, we’ll make good time

If we climb the Sierra Nevadas

We’ll be there with first class status

But George Donner had to fix his wagon apparatus

He cut his hand, but he didn’t die

No one can cry when we can almost smell that California air


Hastings Cutoff wasn’t fast

It gave us an extra 125 miles to walk

A lot of extra time to talk

Grumble about how Lansford did us wrong

His shortcut was anything but

And now we’re behind the others

So slow, we still go on all along

Winter is coming, it won’t be long

We’ll make it through the mountains before it’s too late

Lansford Hastings might be bad, but the Donners are great

They’ll get us to California before the storms hit


Let’s rest, take a break

We can camp out on the shore of this lake

Later it’ll be called Donner Lake

Remember us, don’t repeat our mistakes

There’s a pass through the mountains

We’ll be going soon

Wake up chest deep in snow, now we can’t go

The wagons can’t get through

Too deep, half asleep

Wondering where we went wrong

“...Remember, never take no cut-offs and hurry along as fast as you can.”

You’d better stick with your original plan


The Forlorn Hope Party assembles

To journey through the mountain pass

Going so fast, hitting the gas

One of 15 has to make it through

To bring back a rescue crew

We’re the Graves sisters

Going with our dad to the other side

Still got a drop of pride

When things go wrong, we don’t run and hide

Christmas is coming

The snow gets deeper, the mountain steeper

Til Daddy go can’t go on


No food or heat

There’s nothing here to eat

Poor dear Daddy is dying

Given up on trying, we’re doomed not even lying

It’s the truth, our shortcut threw us off

Daddy says before he dies

He doesn’t want us to cry

But without food we won’t get by

Shakily with one last breath

He says his final words before death


“Mary and Sarah

My pretty daughters so dear

Don’t turn away in fear

Hope is forlorn, but it is still there

You have to make it out of here

Live a new life in California

There’s a whole world waiting for ya

If you make it out alive

I won’t leave this place

But you don’t have to die

I know it may be hard to do

But it’s the only way I can save you

When I’m gone…

You’ll have to eat my flesh to make it through

All I have belongs to you”


We cry and turn our heads away

Eating people is wrong, but some have been doing it all along

What else is there to feed us?

Daddy’s dying wish cannot be denied

We follow through or we will die

Don’t look, Mary

Don’t look, Sarah

Don’t look, don’t think, don’t throw it back up

When this is over, we can try to forget

What we’ve done out of sheer desperation

What’s next is moving on to our final destination


We started with 15 in the Forlorn Hope Party

Only 7 remain

All the women survived

Those who flatlined along the way became fuel for the rest

Like poor, sweet Daddy

Who deserved a better way to be laid to rest

California rises up around us

We are safe, our journey is complete

We can finally rest our aching feet

The First Relief has been sent to save the others by the lake

They’ll bring back as many as they can take

Time goes by and we watch and wait

As more and more of the Donner Party are rescued

And brought to California, the land we’ve sought all along

We were once a proud 87 pioneers

On the trail across the country facing our fears

Through, sweat, blood, tears

Now we are finally here

41 of us remain, 41 made it through the pain with not much for us to gain

But was it worth it?

Was it worth the journey?

If we had stayed in Illinois, Daddy would be with us


We did something so wrong

Just to stay alive

Just so we could thrive

But now we’re on our own in a strange place

Faced challenges, done things

No one should face

It feels so out of place

We feel like such a disgrace

Daddy, Daddy, all we want is to see your face

The journey was hard, but the aftermath hurts worse

Daddy, I’m sorry

We’re alive, we should’ve died on the trail with you

That’s what someone brave would do

Instead of the crime of eating you

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