In July 1846, Margaret Reed, wife of wealthy furniture manufacturer James Reed, left her home in Illinois and set off for California. Margaret, James, and their four children traveled in a covered wagon two stories high. It had a sleeping loft, an iron stove, velvet curtains, and an organ. It carried all of Margaret’s prized personal possessions, and was stocked with a six months’ supply of food and wine.
A series of blizzards caused the Reeds and their traveling companions to become stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Reeds’ wagon, and all that it carried, had been abandoned because it had been unable to navigate the mountain roads.The thirty-one men, women, and children soon ran out of provisions, and some members of the party resorted to cannibalism. While James went in search of help, Margaret stayed behind with her children, heartening them and feeding them snow, bark, and leather broth until James returned.
In the end, it was not Margaret’s worldly goods that kept her children alive, but her own faith, wits, and courage.