The Bancroft Survey Project began in February 2008. Funded by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon and the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundations, the survey project is intended to be a simultaneously broad and in-depth survey of all manuscript holdings of the Bancroft Library, which has been collecting for over a century. Four archivists were hired to scour the collections for a three year term, during which they will review the vast myriad of manuscript materials and use a survey instrument designed to gather data on collection scope, subject categories, and physical condition. The survey archivists are Marjorie Bryer, Amy Croft, Dana Miller, and Elia Van Lith, and they are also the authors of this blog.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Baby tooth from the Donner Party

From the Charles Fayette McGlashan papers, 1878-1946, BANC MSS C-B 570.

This was definitely an odd find. McGlashan wrote a history of the Donner Party in 1902 and among several collections bearing his name we found these artifacts. Not only did these exquisitely packed little boxes contain a dozen or so tiny vials of earth and an odd tool or coin from the site of the Donner Party...

There was also a tiny vial of what looked like pink crystals cushioning, according to the label, a baby tooth found lodged in a log cabin at the site! Here it is in its box next to a silver dollar coin. It is very difficult to make out the tooth here, but it is visible up close.

Talk about scandalous finds! The tags tied to the items indicate that someone was selling the vials as souvenirs, and promised to later use the proceeds to build a Donner Party memorial. Whether the souvenir seller was responsible or not, today Donner Memorial State Park boasts a Pioneer Monument. The Donner Party's Murphy family cabin site, from which the tooth came, is also available to visitors. Although a human baby tooth is a rare find indeed in the manuscript archives, the housing of these items was truly beautiful to behold.

Some Donner Party collections that can be viewed at the Bancroft Library include the Patrick Breen Diary, BANC MSS C-E 65:15 (also viewable online through the library catalog) and Material relating to the Greenwood family, [ca. 1888-1967], BANC MSS C-B 966.

-- D. Miller, original posting date May 23, 2008.