Jean-Baptiste, Donner Party

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Jean Baptiste Baptiste Trudeau (Truvido, Tribodó)

Also Known As: "john"
Birthplace: Utah Territory
Death: Died in Marshall, Marin Co., CA
Immediate Family:

Son of Jean Baptiste Trudeau and Madeleine Trudeau
Husband of Lupe Trudeau
Father of Baptiste Trudeau; Milesia Trudeau; Rosendo Trudeau; John F Trudeau; Sabas Trudeau and 1 other
Brother of Luis Renâe Trudeau and Euphrosene Trudeau

Occupation: Teamster
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Jean-Baptiste, Donner Party

Generally called "John Baptiste" or simply "Baptiste," he was the son of a French trapper who had been killed in an Indian skirmish when Baptiste was just a child. What became of him during the intervening years is unknown, but when the Donner Party left Fort Bridger on July 31, 1846, the teenaged Baptiste accompanied them. He had been taken on by the Donner brothers, though in what capacity is uncertain; it may have been to replace Hiram Miller, who had left the company a few weeks before. Although Baptiste claimed familiarity with the country and with local Indian tribes and languages, it seems unlikely that his knowledge extended across Nevada.
    When the First Relief arrived in February 1847, Baptiste and Noah James, both about 16, were the only "men" left alive at the Alder Creek camp, except for the injured George Donner. Noah left with the relief on February 20, leaving Baptiste the sole able-bodied male at the camp. He cut firewood, amused the children, and probed for the carcasses of cattle lost beneath the snow. His labors undoubtedly helped keep the Donners and their children alive.
    Baptiste’s reputation has been the subject of considerable discussion of late. Although George R. Stewart’s characterization of him may have been biased, Baptiste was not the admirable character that some would paint him. For instance, much has been made of his alleged "heroism" in staying behind with George and Tamzene Donner. True, he did stay, but he complained about it and abandoned them when he had a chance. These actions are justifiable, given the desperate circumstances, but they are not heroic and Baptiste himself felt guilty for leaving. At the camp he whined about being a poor orphan and stole food intended for the Donner children; later he cadged money off Elitha Donner, who could ill afford it (and who warned her sister Eliza not to believe him); he boasted of his cannibalism in 1847, then tearfully denied it in 1884. 

This not the behavior of a hero. Is it human? Yes. Understandable? Yes. Forgivable? Yes. Heroic? No.

    Baptiste spent most of his life in the North Bay area, making his living as a fisherman on Tomales Bay in Marin County and also picking hops in neighboring Sonoma County during the harvest. In November 1884 he had an emotional reunion with Eliza Donner Houghton in San Jose and fascinated her with his account of life at the Alder Creek camp 38 years previously.
    In his old age Baptiste was featured several times in newspaper articles. He described himself as the Donner Party’s guide and emphasized his heroism. In September 1900 he participated in a parade celebrating the 50th anniversary of California's statehood and a sketch of "the sole survivor of the famous Donner Party" appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. He died aged about 80 in 1910, one of the last surviving males of the Donner Party.