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35413RE: Re: [John Muir Trail] RE: Re: Donald Downs

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  • forgetwho
    Oct 13, 2013
      Thank you, John - and John!

      The circumstances help to explain the plaque.  He died only after protracted efforts to save him failed, and his fellow workers and rescuers suffered more, probably, for having failed.  While I was reading this I thought back to an incident when I was a child - Kathy and the well, does anyone else remember this? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathy_Fiscus) I was six at the time. We had no TV; I followed it on the radio for days.  That was not a wilderness tragedy, but psychologically it feels similar to me.


      ---In johnmuirtrail@yahoogroups.com, <johnmuirtrail@yahoogroups.com> wrote:

      On Sat, Oct 12, 2013 at 8:00 AM,  <forgetwho@...> wrote:
      > I've looked at the photo of the memorial and am struck by how poignant the
      > wording is.  Do you know what year the memorial was placed there?
      > Gail

      I love it when you guys give me a research assignment!

      According to 

      Uncertain Path: A Search for the Future of National Parks By William C. Tweed

      the plaque went up shortly after the accident. 

      Tweed reports encountering the famous Reinhold Metzger near the plaque. Metzger said he had passed the plaque over 10 times without noticing it. So none of you need to feel badly about having unknowingly hiked past it. 

      (Metzger held the JMT time record for some years but he is not the famous mountain climber with the similar name, Reinhold Messner). 

      See page 131-134 of the book (page views available on Google Books)

      This link might get you to the pages with the account (I'm not sure how well Google Book links work)

      I found this account thanks to Lizzie Wenk (the author of the great Wilderness Press JMT Guidebook) who recently told me that an account of the Downs accident is also found at pages 107-09 of

      Death, Daring, and Disaster: Search and Rescue in the National Parks By Charles R. Farabee

      If you search for it in Google Books, you can read that account as well

      This link might (or might not) work:


      I found the Tweed account only after Lizzie told me about Farabee and I decided to look further.

      According to the somewhat differing accounts in the two books, "Buck" Downs was injured on August 26, 1930 along with 3 other workers when a dynamite blast above them dislodged a boulder that pinned and crushed his arm, which was then amputated in the field due to gangrene. Further infection set in and it (or a resulting internal hemorrhage) killed him about a week post- accident before he could be evacuated. The others survived. His mother apparently hiked in to be with him when he died.

      As a side note, a aircraft dropped medicine for Downs but crashed a few miles later after making the delivery (the occupants survived the crash). At the time he died, there were efforts to get a dirigible in to evacuate him and another of those injured.

      You can buy the Farabee book (which looks worth at least skimming) via any of these links - be sure to look for the 2005 Revised Edition. I ordered a used one at Abebooks (first link) for under $4 including shopping.

      There's also a news story from the Modesto Bee available online at

      With this very inadequate OCR transcription

      FRESNO. Ca!.. Sept 3. (tPt-- Donald Downs, vouthlul victim of a rock slide, died of his injuries Monday midnight In Baxter cabin, above the tlmberllns in Sequoia National Park, near where he and three other youths were injured more than a week ago. His mother was at his bedside. Death was reported to have resulted from gangrene of the remnant of his left arm, amputated above the elbow by Dr. Morton W. Frsser, park physician, after it had been crushed bv a huge boulder. Dr. W. L. Adams, Fresno bone specialist, had flown to Independence yesterday and was on the trail to the improvised' hospital where Downs and Ed Jordan. Dlnuba, lay when wcrd reached him that Downs had dlad. Dr. Auns continued on his way, to Rive bis services on behalf of Jordan, who Is suffering from several brotten bones. ' - Arrangements.were reported under way to remove Downs' body and take Jordan to a hospital in a dirigible. Albright At Scene Hcrace 11. Albright, director of national park service, was In Independence vesterday. His plans called for use either of a Goodyear blimp from Los Angeles or an army blimp from March Field. Jordan's mother. Mrs. Louise Risley, left her Diniiba home yesterday to go to her.son..She was reported being taken back through Ihe mountains from -Sequoia.Na- tional Park headquarters' at Ash Mountain'by pack train.-St- is expected to.arrive.at the cabin today. - ' " . Robert .Rankin.- Palo Alto, and Donald Griffin,--Fresno, the other two vounBJnembers Injured a week ago yesterday of the siSc-man crew that was-granting..on the John Muir 'Traik--are-in Fresno, recuperating" "from;' th'elr- less serious hurts. . · ·; ' ' ; ' ' ·..' · '-' ' . ,. Cheerful To last Downs'was wan and'drawn but 'sttir''smiling cheerfully a dozen hours'before be died. · -That was-the-description .of him given, here by ; Jack. Schneider, Fresno' aviator -whose, plane'came to grief shortly after he had landed medical supplies by parachute near 'the.camp Monday. Schneider' 'had · Forest Ranger Floyd SheUabarger-as a.guide-in his two-place .plane when the motor failed and Schneider crashed the craft into some 'shrub-like trees, the only, vegetation- in that high altitude. "We were only a mile or BO from Baxter, cabin where the boys were," Schneider said. "When we reached it Dr..Fraier said Downs "and Jordan wanted-to see the aviators,.so we .went in. "Downs looked very bad. His face was drswn" and-colorless, yet ... appeared in a cheerful mood. Jordan also seemed quite cheerful. His appearance Traa much better than Downs'." . Downs died of gangrene at midnight, twelve hours after Schneider .w him

      Sept 8--11B--Tho body uC DoiutU OuHiii, Gleiuiil* yaath. was in lUk homeward vmy to-day, reports from Independence said. Advices from there said the body was being taken by pack train to Independence, and that MRS. V. M. Downs, mother of the dead youth, was accompanying It. FRESNO. Ca!.. 

      John Curran Ladd
      1616 Castro Street
      San Francisco, CA  94114-3707

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