Margaret Backenstoe Reed

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Margaret Backenstoe Reed
James F. and Margaret Reed
Born Margaret Keyes
(1814-03-31)March 31, 1814
Union, Virginia
Died November 25, 1861(1861-11-25) (aged 47)
San Jose, California
Religion The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Spouse(s) James F. Reed
Parents Sarah Keyes

Margaret Backenstoe Reed, also known as Margaret Wilson Keyes Backenstoe Reed,[1] was an early Mormon pioneer notable for her involvement in the Donner Party, sometimes called the Donner-Reed Party.

Early life[edit]

Margaret Keyes was born to Sarah Keyes (d. May 29, 1846), who eventually accompanied her daughter on the fated trek across the United States.[2] She was raised as a "Virginian aristocrat... whose family was among the leading citizens of Springfield."[3] Reed was described as small and "pretty", with brown hair that she usually wore in braids.[4]

Reed first married Lloyd Backenstoe in Sangamon County, Illinois, and together they had daughter Virginia E. Backenstoe. Lloyd died in 1833 during a cholera epidemic before they had any other children together.[5][6]

In 1834, Reed remarried James F. Reed.[7] That marriage resulted in three children, being Martha "Patty" J. Reed, James "Jimmy" F. Reed Jr. and Thomas "Tommy" K. Reed. Virginia, James' stepdaughter, took the last name Reed upon her mother's marriage to James.[8]

Reed suffered from chronic headaches and has been characterized as a "semi-invalid".[3]

Donner Party[edit]

In 1845 Reed's husband James decided to head west to California and organized a small group which left the Springfield area in the spring of 1846. During the journey, they became trapped during a snowstorm and had to resort to cannibalism to survive.

Main article: Donner Party

After trek[edit]

Reed and her family recuperated in Sutter's Fort and later in Napa Valley. While in the valley, husband James became interested in reviving abandoned orchards on the grounds of the Mission San Jose. Eventually, the family settled in the valley and James began gold mining as well, making a large profit.[9]

After her arrival in California, Reed had two more children with James, being sons Charles Cadden Reed and Willianoski Yount Reed, called "Willie".[10] Charles was born in San Jose under the Mexican flag on February 6, 1848. Willianoski was also born in San Jose on December 12, 1850, and died at age 9 on June 12, 1860.[11]

While living in the ranch house the Reeds acquired, Reed purchased an "elegant" piano with rosewood lines from a sea captain. The piano came to be known as "The Pioneer Piano" and was featured in the Reed parlor for decades.[9]


Margaret Street in San Jose, California, is named for Reed. Keyes street is named after Reed's mother Sarah Keyes, Martha Street is named after Reed's daughter Martha, Reed street is named after Reed's husband James Reed, and finally, Virginia Street is named after Reed's daughter Virginia. All streets are in downtown San Jose.[12]


  1. ^ Calabro, Marian (2000). The perilous journey of the Donner Party. Scholastic Books. p. 14. ISBN 9780439186896. 
  2. ^ McGlashan, Charles F. (2013). History of the Donner Party: A Tragedy of the Sierras. Courier Dover Publications,. p. 30. ISBN 9780486287126. 
  3. ^ a b Limburg, Peter R. (2010). Deceived: The Story of the Donner Party. Pacifica Military History. p. 5. ISBN 9781890988333. 
  4. ^ Rhodes, Richard (2007). The Ungodly: A Novel of the Donner Party. Stanford University Press. p. 7. ISBN 9780804756419. 
  5. ^ Maino, Jeannette Gould (1989). Left Hand Turn: A Story of the Donner Party Women. Dry Creek Books. p. xi. ISBN 9780941885058. 
  6. ^ Power, John Carroll. History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois: "centennial Record". p. 428. 
  7. ^ Sherman, Edward Allen (1898). Fifty years of Masonry in California, Volume 2. G. Spaulding. p. 13. 
  8. ^ Dungan, Myles (2013). How the Irish Won the West. Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. ISBN 9781626367319. Retrieved 12 June 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Houston, James D. "The Bad Luck and Good Luck of James Frazier Reed". Oakland Museum of California. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  10. ^ Johnson, Kristin. Wilson Keyes "Reed Family". New Light on the Donner Party. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  11. ^ Power, p.601.
  12. ^ "The Reeds". Retrieved 13 June 2014.