The Story of Patty Reed's Doll
By Dorothy Kupcha Leland
When eight-year-old Patty Reed left Springfield with her family and the Donner Party, she brought along one of her most prized possessions--a wooden doll so small it could fit in the palm of her hand or her apron pocket. Months later, when dire circumstances forced the group to abandon many of its wagons in the desert near the Great Salt Lake, Patty and the other children were told to bury all toys and non-essential items. The little girl dutifully did as she was told--except for her precious "Dolly," which unbeknownst to anyone else, Patty hid inside her dress. Dolly stayed hidden, as Patty's secret friend and comforter, throughout the bitter ordeal in the mountains. Patty would keep Dolly all her life, in fact, maintaining that her love for the doll had kept her alive that cruel winter.

Patty herself lived to be a grandmother in the Santa Cruz area, dying at age 85 in 1923. Yet, life goes on for Dolly, who has been on display for half a century at Sutter's Fort in Sacramento. Immortalized in Rachel Kelley Laurgaard's book, Patty Reed's Doll: The Story of the Donner Party, Dolly continues to capture the public's imagination.

"Many of the school children who visit us read Patty Reed's Doll before they come," said one staff member at Sutter's Fort. "It's the first thing they want to see when they get here."

Mrs. Laurgaard, a Sacramento school teacher, researched and wrote the story of Patty Reed and her doll as a master's thesis at what was then called Sacramento State College. It was published in 1956 and went out of print a few years later. In 1989, Sacramento-area publisher Tomato Enterprises brought out a paperback reprint that has been picked up for use in many classrooms throughout California and other states as well. More than 150 years after the Donner Party's tragic journey, Dolly continues to keep Patty Reed's indomitable spirit alive for new generations of children.