Quite simply, the Donner Party was a group of ill-fated pioneers who ended up eating each other when they ran out of food on their trek from Missouri to California in 1846. Having chosen to follow a new route instead of the well-traveled Oregon Trail, they encountered unexpectedly rough terrain and an early, heavy snowfall and spent the winter trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Many died and others resorted to cannibalism.
The pioneers’ westward trip on the Oregon Trail features in the American primary school curriculum, and there have even been several popular games based on it. I posted a survey on my Facebook page to find out how widely known the Donner story is. Most, but not all, who responded had heard of it though not in school. One of my daughters commented, “I only remember learning about the Oregon Trail in 4th grade, when they might have glossed over the canibally parts.”