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McCutchen's with the Donner Party

I have known for many years that a member of the McCutchen Family were part
of the Famous Donner Party. Yesterday I was graciously granted permission
by Kristin Johnson, to add some information that she has gotten on my ancestor.

From the Donner Party Roster is the information that "the McCutchen,
from Jackson County Missouri, joined the Donner Party at Fort Bridger.
They had been traveling with another group, perhaps the party of
Samuel C. Young, who had gone ahead on Hastings Cutoff.
It is not recorded that they had a wagon; they may have been detained
by an accident. When the Donners and Reeds left the fort, the McCutchens
went with them."

The above picture is from:
History of the DONNER PARTY: A tragedy of the Sierra
C.F. McGlashan
Stanford University Press
Stanford, CA
1940 (1880)
Page 245

"After crossing the Salt Desert, the Donner Party took stock of their supplies and
realized that they did not have enough to see them through to California.
Two volunteers set out, little Charles Stanton (standing 5'5") and Big Bill
McCutchen (standing 6'6"). McCutchen became ill after arriving at Sutter's Fort
and Stanton returned with supplies. McCutchen and Reed made an abortive
attempt to rescue their trapped families in November, but were forced to return
because of the deep snow. The two fathers did succeed in February, leading
the Second Relief to the camps."

"Big Bill" William McCutchen was a farmer from Jackson Co., Missouri
(b. abt. 1816 in davidson Co., Tennessee) (d. 17 Apr. 1895 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in San Jose, Calfi.)
Son of James McCutchen (b. abt. 1771 in Virginia) and Elizabeth Deane (b. abt. 1775 in Virginia)
Married Amanda Henderson abt. 1842 in Pettis Co., Missouri
Amanda (b. abt.1822) (d. 10 Nov. 1857 in Santa Clara Co., Calif.)
William Remarried in 1860 however we have no information of who.
Children: Harriet, James, John, Thomas, Edward

William McCutchen

William and Amanda first setteled in Sonoma, later moving to San Jose. By 1852 the McCutchen had three children - James, John and Thomas. In the September election of 1853, William won the Sheriff job by 113 votes over S. O. Houghton. He took office October 3, 1853.

Sheriff McCutchen and Peter Minor, an Alderman of San Jose, failed to rest on the Sabbath. Prefering to test their equestrian skills, they had a horse race through the streets of San Jose. The Sheriff won the race by a half a neck. The prize, a bottle of whisky. Unfortunately the City Marshal didn't seem to appreciate horse racing through his streets and arrested both the Sheriff and Alderman. The next morning they were arraigned before Mayor Houghton and were fined $10 each.

William was born in Davidson County, Tennessee in 1816. Sometime prior to 1836 the McCutchen family moved to Missouri, where William met his wife Amanda Henderson. Early in 1845 they had a daughter, Harriett. In the Spring of 1846 the McCutchens loaded their valuables into a wagon and headed west for California. They made it as far as Fort Bridger in Wyoming when either their wagon or oxen gave out. Several days later they thought their fortunes had changed for the better when a new train of twenty wagons rumbled into the fort. After a day's rest and a restocking of provisions the Captain of the wagon train invited the McCutchens to join their party west. The McCutchens then became part of western history, for they had just joined the ill-fated Donner Party. During the trip westward, William and another member of the party, C.T. Stanton left the main group and headed for Sutter's Fort. Once at Sutter's Fort the two were to secure provisions and return to the wagon train. Unfortunately, by the time McCutchen and Stanton reached the fort, William had become extremely sick and wasn't able to make the return trip. The second relief trip, which included McCutchen, found what was left of the "Snow shoe party" that was making their way out of the mountains. Amanda was part of this group, but Harriett was not. She had died back at Donner Lake on February 2nd, and was buried inside one of the makeshift cabins.

Amanda died in 1857 at the age of 35. She died of complications while giving birth to their fourth son, Edward Johnson McCutchen. Edward eventually became a prominent attorney in a San Francisco law firm that still bears his name, McCutchen, Doyle, Brown and Enersen. William lived to the age of 79 years, dying after suffering a stroke on April 17, 1895.


The Santa Clara register, September 15, 1853
The San Jose Telegraph, July 31, 1855
The San Jose Telegraph, November 25, 1857
The Pioneer, May 15, 1895
The San Jose Daily Mercury, April 19, 1895

Sayer, Eugene T., History of Santa Clara County California,
The Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago Ill., 1888
Stewart, George R., Ordeal by Hunger, Univ. of Nebraska Press
McGlashan, C.F., History of the Donner Party, Stanford Univ. Press

Big Bill and the Donner Ordeal, Unknown author and date.
McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen Counselors at Law, San Francisco.

Visit the Donner Party Page by Kristin Johnson

If you have any information on this McCutchen or any other McCutchen Family
Please send me and email with the information.

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