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A Picture from History: John Stark

It was 1847 and only a few days prior John Stark heard one of the most remarkable stories of his entire life.

A group of settlers had been trapped up in the mountains for months, slowly starving to death.

John Stark
John Stark

Rumors had even circulated about cannibalism.

Along with two other men, Stark set out to see if the survivors could safely be rescued from the brutal snow of the Sierra Nevada.

With a good idea of where the survivors were, the men headed through massive snowdrifts, eventually stumbling upon 11 survivors — mostly children.

The two men with Stark promptly grabbed a child each and headed back down the mountain. That was whom they could hope to save this trip, they argued.

Donner Pass
Donner Pass

But for John Stark, that was not an option.

“I will not abandon these people,” he said.

There was simply too much pain and suffering for Stark to walk away from it all.

He knew if he walked away with only one child like the other two men, the rest of the children would be dead by the time he got back.

That was not acceptable.

Scooping up two emaciated kids in his arms, Stark walked several yards before setting them down into the snow.

And then he walked back.

Stark scooped up two more, carrying them back to the others he’d just sat down.

He walked back.

Summit of Sierra Nevada
Summit of Sierra Nevada

John Stark did this for all nine of the survivors…and he did it down the entire length of the mountain until they reached the Sacramento Valley.

He repeated the process of carrying two at a time for a short way until he was absolutely sure that every single one of those children was safe.

Nobody would die on his watch if he had anything to say about it…and nobody did.

After finally reaching town and ensuring the kids were safe, Stark was told there were still more people trapped in the mountains.

Stumps of trees cut at the Alder Creek site by members of the Donner Party, photograph taken in 1866. The height of the stumps indicates the depth of snow.

Other men were paid $50 for the relief efforts. Meanwhile, Stark was the only one who volunteered.

“I will go without any reward beyond that derived from the consciousness of doing a good act,” he said.

A total of 87 people set out with the Donner Party with the hopes of a better life out west. Only 48 lived.

But had it not been for John Stark, that number would have been a few souls fewer.

From the diary of Patrick Breen.

“To his great bodily strength and unexcelled courage, myself and others owe our lives. There was probably no other man in California at that time, who had the intelligence, determination and what was absolutely necessary to have in that emergency,” One of the survivors Stark rescued said.

If you’re looking to learn more about the Donner Party, I highly recommend reading Rarik’s Desperate Passage. Hands down, it’s the best account of the events of the pilgrimage.

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical, if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures from History, click on over to our History Category.

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7 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Steve Struck

    Thanks so much much for this welcome diversion into history. Especially since we continue to repeat as we do not learn from our history.

    October 11, 2021 1:31 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Vincent Alberry

    Once again, another great story. Keep them coming. Thanks

    October 10, 2021 3:21 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Great story, would like to see more of this.

    October 9, 2021 7:20 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    William G

    Great article. More like this please!

    October 8, 2021 8:20 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      No problemo, Willy.

      October 9, 2021 6:32 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Never knew of him until now. Public school has failed me. What a hero.

    October 8, 2021 8:15 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Incredible story. John Stark was a REAL man.
    Thank you for sharing this.

    October 8, 2021 7:28 pm
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