Margaret Breen, Donner Party

Is your surname Breen?

Research the Breen family

Margaret Breen, Donner Party's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!


Related Projects

Margaret Mary Breen (Bulger)

Birthplace: Rathgeran, Co. Carlow, Ireland
Death: Died in San Juan Bautista, San Benito Co., CA
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Simon Bulger and Margaret Bulger
Wife of Patrick Breen
Mother of John Breen, Donner Party; Edward Breen, Donner Party; Patrick Breen, Donner Party; Simon Breen, Donner Party; James F. Breen, Donner Party and 3 others

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Margaret Breen, Donner Party

The characterization of Margaret Breen in Donner Party writings has been unfortunate. It appears that because of her husband’s ill-health, she assumed a more prominent role in the family than some have thought seemly. Nevertheless, the fact that all of her family survived intact, including her nursing infant Isabella, is a tribute to her care. At Starved Camp she was the only capable adult and looked after not only her own family but orphans of the Graves and Donner families as well.

Mrs. Breen’s only known statement about the Donner Party was reported by Eliza W. Farnham in California, In-Doors and Out (1856; reprinted in "Unfortunate Emigrants"). Like all survivors’ accounts, Mrs. Breen’s is self-serving, but considering the bad press she had received this is hardly surprising. Margaret Breen died in 1874, five years before C. F. McGlashan began collecting material for his History of the Donner Party, but her sons vigorously defended her memory and ensured that she was fittingly portrayed in his book.

Born in Ireland, Patrick Breen emigrated to Canada in 1828. There he married Margaret Bulger. They moved to Springfield, Illinois, about 1834, resided there briefly, and moved on Keokuk, Iowa. In 1835 they had a son, James, who died the next year, and six more children. Patrick worked for a time on a riverboat, but essentially a farmer and acquired a half-section of land about three miles northwest of Keokuk. The Breens' reason for emigrating to California is uncertain, but religion may have been a factor. As foreign-born Roman Catholics, they were not welcomed by the Know-Nothing faction then agitating the political scene. There were few Catholics in Keokuk, and it was a difficult district--the town's priest wrote to his superiors requesting to be reassigned. On the other hand, California, with its chain of missions, had a strong Roman Catholic presence, as well as a reportedly delightful climate and cheap land. In any event, the family sold their property, outfitted themselves for the journey, and set out in three wagons to rendezvous with other overland emigrants in the spring of 1846. They were accompanied by their friend and neighbor, Patrick Dolan.

view all 11

Margaret Breen, Donner Party's Timeline

Rathgeran, Co. Carlow, Ireland
February 21, 1832
Age 26
Ontario, Canada
September 4, 1833
Age 27
St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
Age 31
Keokuk, Lee Co., IA
Age 32
Keokuk, Lee, IA, USA
Age 35
Keokuk, Lee Co., IA
Age 37
Keokuk, Lee Co., IA
Age 39
Keokuk, Lee County, Iowa, USA
Age 43
Age 68
San Juan Bautista, San Benito Co., CA