Margaret and Patrick Breen

Join us at the Arizona Senior Academy on Thursday (Jan. 18) at 3:30 p.m. to hear the harrowing story of the Donner Party, from the perspective of the Breen family. Generally misrepresented in historical accounts, the words of one survivor, Margaret Breen, will be used to set the record straight. Based strictly on historical documents, the presentation is designed to separate fact from fiction.

Margaret Breen, with her husband and seven children, endured the famous winter of entrapment in 1846-47 at Donner Lake. One of only two families in the Donner Party to survive without loss of life, the Breen family always credited the strength of family and of their Catholic faith for the survival of their family.

Breen’s story is told in “Chautauqua” style by Doris Dwyer, Ph. D.; professor emerita of history from Western Nevada College. Dwyer is an experienced Chautauqua performer, with nearly 1,000 performances to her credit nationwide. She has lived the life of Margaret Breen for well over 20 years and is ready to answer questions about the most famous western emigrant party in American history.

Doris Dwyer, dressed as her subject, portrays Donner Party survivor Margaret Breen.

Chautauqua programming consists of three parts; a historical narrative, questions for the character, and a short question and answer period with the scholar behind Mrs. Breen. Chautauqua is heavily supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the state humanities affiliates.

Vilified in some accounts of the Donner Party, Margaret Breen is credited with saving many in the Donner Party, including Virginia Reed, who stayed in the Breen cabin until her rescue. Following the rescue, the Breens lived in several California communities before settling in San Juan Bautista. There she tended to her growing family and attended daily the mission church that she loved.

Written by Doris Dwyer


The Donner Party: Setting the Record Straight:Jan.2018
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