Hoosier History Live! with Nelson Price, Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on 88.7 FM, WICR in Indianapolis.

Listen to Hoosier History Live! at 11:30 a.m. each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM. You also can listen online at the WICR website during the broadcast or you can join our new listening group at Bookmama's in Irvington to listen to, and discuss, the Saturday show. We invite you to visit our website!


May 15 encore show

Donner Party tragedy, Indiana links and lessons learned


It's been called one of the greatest tragedies in the history of westward migration. The Donner Party tragedy's most gruesome aspects occurred in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the brutal winter of 1846-47, but there are some Hoosier links with the ill-fated wagon train. Donner Party survivors.Nelson's studio guest not only will explain the Indiana connection, he will share lessons derived (in conflict resolution, leadership selection and group decision-making) from the tragedy that involved stranded, California-bound pioneers, some of whom eventually resorted to cannibalism.


Although group leader George Donner was born in North Carolina and, as a 62-year-old farmer, was based in Springfield, Ill., when the expedition headed west, he had lived for several years in Greensburg, Indiana. In fact, Nelson's guest, Hoosier business consultant and speaker Karl Ahlrichs, is a descendant of George Donner, one of whose wives is buried in Indiana. (A subsequent wife, Donner's third, accompanied the California-bound group.)


Karl Ahlrichs.The "Donner" name not only is on sites in California (including what is now known as Donner Pass, where some of the more than 40 deaths occurred), it also is on parks and buildings in southern Indiana because of the influence of the extended family in this state, including Donner Park in Columbus. Donner also owned property in Jefferson County. According to Karl, some of the Donner land later became part of the Jefferson Proving Ground, an ammunition testing site established in the 1940s.


After researching what happened with the Donner Party and why, Karl will explain how he uses this historic episode to enhance decision-making and critical-thinking skills. He even sees parallels between political choices at the ballot box for Hoosier voters and the selection of grandfatherly, affable George Donner as the group's leader rather than a much younger candidate, James Reed, a visionary who was intense, ambitious and abrasive.


Donner Party memorial statue in California's Tahoe National Forest.The horrifying tragedies associated with the Donner Party (of an original group that numbered 87 pioneers, 39 perished, along with two Native Americans who died while bringing supplies) resulted in changes in the way rescue parties were dispatched to help stranded wagon trains.


In addition to George Donner, the party included his brother Jacob and several members of their extended families, as well as hired hands. When they became snowbound for months during the raging blizzards, members of the Donner Party ran out of provisions and ate their oxen and other animals. In desperation, they then turned to mice and just about anything else that could be consumed. The tragedy is not a lighthearted topic, but Karl says it can be instructive, and Hoosier History Live! strives to cover all aspects of our heritage, even events that we wish had not occurred.


Note: This is an encore of a show originally broadcast in September 2009, so we won't have a History Mystery or phone calls from listeners.


History Mystery question


Former "colored school" is now a heritage museum.In the early 1800s, one of Indiana's first African-American communities was established in a Southern Indiana town. That's because abolitionists, over a series of years, brought more than 100 black slaves from the South to the Indiana town and freed them. For many generations, the descendants of these freed slaves attended a segregated school in the Indiana town. In recent years, the historic school, once known as the town's "colored school," has been restored as a heritage museum.


Question: Name the Southern Indiana town in which the historic African-American school-turned-museum is located.


Since this is an encore presentation, you will not be able to call in with the answer. However, if you are the first to answer correctly on our Facebook page, you will win four tickets to an Indians game at Victory Field, courtesy of the ICVA.


Your friends in Hoosierdom,

Nelson Price, host and creative director

Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101

Chris Gahl, Roadtripper

Richard Sullivan, tech and web director    

Garry Chilluffo, online editor



Lucas OilIndiana Historical Society logo.

Dan Ripley's Antique HelperThe Fadely Trust. A fund of the Indianapolis Foundation.

Indiana Landmarks logo.Story Inn

Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support:
Indiana Landmarks, The Fadely Trust, Indiana Historical Society, Antique Helper, Lucas Oil and Story Inn.


Acknowledgments to Scott Keller Fine Art and Antiques Appraisals, Print Resources, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities Council, Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Drew Pastorek and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through sponsorships and through individual tax-deductible contributions through the Indiana Humanities Council. Visit our website to learn more.


May 22 show

Shelby County history


Businesses and hotels cropped up around Shelbyville's Public Square about the same time rail travel began to make its mark on the community. Image courtesy The History Press.Nelson will be back, live, for a look at the heritage of a county that includes everything from the Big Blue River (romanticized 100 years ago by Shelbyville author Charles Major) to Camp Atterbury, which was built at the start of World War II and today is a training base for the Indiana National Guard.


Shelby County also is known for destinations such as the Boggstown Cabaret, which opened in 1884 as an inn and quickly became a popular venue for piano and banjo music, as well as the Kopper Kettle in Morristown, an antique-filled, family-style restaurant that's also located in an historic building.


All of these are featured in a new visual history book written by Nelson's guest Julie Young, author of A Brief History of Shelby County (The History Press).


Julie Young.Famous folks who grew up in Shelby County include movie actress Marjorie Main (1890-1975), who always will be remembered for her performances as crusty "Ma Kettle" in a series of movies during the 1950s. As one of Hollywood's busiest character actresses, she also had roles in box office hits such as Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and Friendly Persuasion (1956); ironically, her father was a Shelby County minister who objected to the theater.


Shelbyville was the hometown of basketball great Bill Garrett (1929-1974), who broke the "color barrier" in the Big Ten when, after being recruited by I.U., he became the first African-American to play regularly. The gym at his alma mater, Shelbyville High School, is named in his honor.


And speaking of Shelbyville, Nelson plans to ask Julie about the diverse architecture featured in the downtown of the county seat. Julie joined us last July for a popular show about bygone landmarks on the Eastside of Indianapolis; that's because her other books include Eastside Indianapolis: A Brief History (The History Press).


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