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School History

Our Namesake: Elitha Donner

Elitha Cumi Donner

Elitha Cumi Donner

Daughter of George Donner and Mary Blue
Born October 16, 1832 in Bloomington, Illinois
Died July 7, 1923
First marriage June 1, 1847 at Sutter’s Fort, Sacramento, CA to Perry McCoon (McCoon was born about 1821, died in January 1851)
Child: Elizabeth, born about 1849, died about 1850.
Second marriage December 8, 1853 to Benjamin R. Wilder (Wilder was born March 27, 1821, in Rhode Island; died 1898, Sacramento, CA.)
Children: Susan, Mary L., Olive D., James Allen, George, Elitha Ellen
At the age of 14, Elitha married Perry McCoon, who had assisted the Donner relief by ferrying men and supplies across the swollen Feather River. The marriage was brief and apparently not very happy. McCoon prospered at first, managing a ranch as well as a ferry, but wasted the proceeds from the sale of his holdings by drinking and gambling. By 1850 he was impoverished. Elitha’s feelings at finding herself tied to such a man are not known, but they can be imagined. In January 1851 McCoon was reportedly showing off his riding skills when his foot became entangled with his riata, and he was dragged to death.
Elitha’s second marriage, to Benjamin Wilder, a brother of her half-sister Frances’ husband, was happier, though life was still difficult in pioneer California.
Elitha died in 1923 and is buried in Elk Grove, California. Her grave is California State Historic Landmark 719, and Elitha Donner Elementary School in Elk Grove is named after her.
Elitha figures prominently in a young people’s book, Tamsen: A Story of the Donner Party by Edna Mae Anderson (Fort Washington, Pa.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1973) and in Naida West’s recent novel River of Red Gold.
Source: New Light on the Donner Party by Kristen Johnson at Click here