Plaque Honoring Donner Party at Emigration Canyon Has Been Restored

Contributed By Adam Droge, Church News contributor

  • 22 November 2016

Bas-relief on the “This Is the Place” monument at This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Article Highlights

  • A plaque that went missing from the monument at Donner Hill has been restored.
  • The ill-fated Donner party traveled through Utah in the summer of 1846.
  • Bill Smart, who helped restore the plaque, said it was built in the 1950s.

A plaque that had gone missing from the monument at Donner Hill at the mouth of Emigration Canyon east of Salt Lake City has been restored by the high priests of the 18th North Ward, Salt Lake Ensign Stake. The monument was erected to honor the efforts of the Donner pioneers.

According to information on the plaque, the ill-fated Donner party traveled through Utah in the summer of 1846 as a part of a supposed shortcut to their destination in California. A man named Lansford Hasting told them that this shortcut would save 250 miles and several weeks of travel.

As a part of this journey through Utah, they spent 16 days hacking out a 36-mile road through the Wasatch Mountains. Upon arriving at what would later be known as Emigration Canyon, they came to a point where they felt the brush and boulders were impenetrable, so instead of continuing on, they decided to take the oxen up the steep hill in front of them.

With no time for rest after climbing the hill, many of the oxen gave out and died as the party pushed on. This caused delays that led to the well-publicized disaster in the Sierra Mountains in which around half of their party died in the cold winter while many of the rest turned to cannibalism to survive.

The very next summer in 1847, Brigham Young’s party of pioneers took advantage of this path that the Donner party created to save time on their own journey. Upon reaching the point where the Donner party decided to climb the hill, the Mormon pioneers chose instead to finish the path, and, after four hours of labor, a safe path to the Salt Lake Valley was created.

Bill Smart, who helped work on the restoration of the plaque earlier this year, said that this monument was built in the 1950s at the base of what was referred to as Donner Hill.

“I think the contrast between what the Donners did there and what the Mormons did the following year is a classic example of what it takes to be a successful pioneer and a successful person,” said Brother Smart.

Bill Smart stands next to the monument at the base of Donner Hill that commemorates the Donner party. High priests in the 18th North Ward, Salt Lake Ensign Stake, recently restored the plaque. Photo provided by Kristen Rogers-Iversen.