James Frazier Reed

Photo added by Debbie

James Frazier Reed

  • Birth 18 Nov 1800 Ireland
  • Death 24 Jun 1874 San Jose, Santa Clara County, California, USA
  • Burial San Jose, Santa Clara County, California, USA
  • Memorial ID 10950802

Donner Party Leader, Pioneer, Businessman. Reed was born in Northern Ireland, but he claimed to be of noble Polish extraction with Reednoski being the original name. Reed and his mother emigrated to the U.S. after his father’s death. He joined a local volunteer militia company led by Jacob M. Early and served with Abraham Lincoln during the Black Hawk War (1831). After the war, he returned to Springfield, Illinois, where he prospered as a merchant and furniture maker. He also speculated in railroad contacts and real estate. Reed served as the U.S. pension agent for Springfield. His wife, Margret, suffered from ill health so it was Reed who conceived the idea of going west and organized the "Reed and Donner emigrant party" that left Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois on April 14, 1846. He intended to meet his brother-in-law Robert Cadden Keyes who had left for Oregon in 1845, but instead went to California. Reed's wealth was reflected in his wagons. Along the Humboldt, on October 5, 1846, Reed became involved in a dispute between two teamsters and in the ensuing fight stabbed John Snyder in self-defense. He was banished from the train and went ahead to Sutter’s Fort for supplies, but snow blocked the pass when he and William McCutchen tried to return to the wagon train at the beginning of November. Reed’s attempts to organize another relief party met with temporary failure for most American settlers had enlisted to fight in the Mexican War. Reed participated in the war, and on January 2, 1847, was involved in the Battle of Santa Clara, the last northern battle of the Mexican War. In February Reed led the Second Relief to the camps. He met his wife, step-daughter Virginia and Jimmy coming out of the mountains with the First Relief but after learning that Patty and Tommy were still at the lake, he hurried over the mountains. While recuperating in the Napa Valley, Reed served as sheriff of Sonoma before settling in San Jose. Although he arrived almost destitute, Reed did well in real estate and mining ventures. Reed preserved numerous documents dealing with the Donner Party including the Miller-Reed Diary, a diary of the Second Relief, letters and a memoir. Reed street in downtown San Jose is named after him.


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  • Created by: Debbie
  • Added: 12 May 2005
  • Find A Grave Memorial 10950802
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for James Frazier Reed (18 Nov 1800–24 Jun 1874), Find A Grave Memorial no. 10950802, citing Oak Hill Memorial Park, San Jose, Santa Clara County, California, USA ; Maintained by Debbie (contributor 46570228) .