Woman and friends hike length of Oregon Trail
“Our long nightmare is over,” says companion
special to Quotidiana
OREGON CITY, OR (AP)—It took 20 years—15 of them in prison—but Ina Smith has walked the entire length of Oregon Trail from St. Louis, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon. Her trek crossed seven states and more than 2000 miles with her hiking companions, Lou Effie Bodell of Austin, Patience W. Littbaum of Chicago, and Anneliese Grandpré of Toulouse, France.
Smith's imprisonment came because of her commitment to historical accuracy. After hiking from St. Louis across Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Nevada, and California, the four were looking forward to a triumphant entry into Oregon City, Oregon. At Mrs.Smith's insistence, however, Mrs. Smith and her companions reenacted the tragedy of the Donner Party by attempting to cross the Sierra Nevadas in a November blizzard.
“It was colder’n a well-digger’s butt, and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face in that storm,” Mrs. Littbaum said. “We wanted to stay at a bed and breakfast in Tahoe that even had a hot tub, but Ina said the Donner Party didn’t have hot tubs and made us push on. I wanted to at least ride up to the mountains in the Explorer because my knee replacements were killing me in that snow, but she said nobody in the Donner Party had four-wheel drive or knee replacements either and called me a big sissy. So we pushed on and finally made camp in an abandoned trapper’s cabin up on some pass in the Sierras.”
The women, said Mrs. Littbaum, were grateful to be in a shelter, however primitive, but Ms. Smith had other ideas. To remain faithful to history, Ms. Smith removed the remaining caulking from the cabin to allow the snow and frigid gales to blow in.
“[Ms. Smith] planned the whole miserable thing,” explained Mrs. Littbaum. “We didn’t know it when we set out, but she planned to be in the mountains in the winter. She brought along a couple of untanned cowhides and kept telling us they were covers for our sleeping bags. I wasn’t about to have a cowhide over me; have you ever smelled one of them? But when we got to the cabin, she hid our sleeping bags. Said the Donner party didn’t have Slumberjacks.”
She also did not allow the women to cook and eat the food they carried, the women said. “We brought all kinds of good things,” Mrs. Bodell said. “Shrimp, dried fruit, nuts, filets of beef, fresh fish, freeze-dried ice cream, and fine wines, including a 1961 Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild Grand Cru Classe. She made us turn over all our food to her, and she cached it somewhere in the mountains. We still haven’t found it. And that wine cost $800 a bottle; I had to dip into my pension fund to buy it.”
Referring frequently to Virginia E. B. Reed’s diary account of the Donner Party, Ms. Smith herself prepared the food, which consisted solely of the cowhide.
“Boiled cowhide was the only sustenance she afforded us,” Mrs. Littbaum explained. “Have you ever eaten that stuff? When you boil it, it makes its own glue. Ina tried to say that the stuff in the pot was gravy, but my eyes and my mouth know the difference between boeuf de rôtis au jus and mucilage.”
“We’re pretty sure Ina sneaked out at night to get into the food cache,” interjected Mrs. Bodell, “but we were never able to prove it. She never ate the cowhide as far as we know, and the wind would have covered any tracks in the snow. How else could she survive but by eating our food she had hidden?”
Mrs. Bodell added, “I wasn’t about to put my lips on that cowhide. And Anneliese didn’t speak much English, so her contribution mainly amounted to ‘I will not eat zis merde.’” Miss Grandpré’s refusal to eat boiled cowhide eventually became her undoing, as she was the only one in the party to die.
“Patience and I have some extra padding, you might call it, so we were able to survive those several weeks with only moderate discomfort, but Annaliese was no bigger than a minute,” Mrs. Bodell explained. “Little Annaliese didn’t have an ounce to spare, and she starved.”
“After her death things really started to go to hell,” Mrs. Littbaum said. “Ina demanded historical accuracy, so she divided up Annaliese’s remains neat as a pie and cooked her. Lou Effie and I refused to even think about eating our friend, but Ina polished her off in about three weeks. Said she tasted just like chicken and made all kinds of horrible jokes about the joy of French cooking and eating a French—fried. She even acted out scenes from The Gold Rush and wanted us to join in.”
“The woman’s nuts,” Mrs. Bodell said.
After the party did not appear in Oregon City as scheduled, Tom Ed Bodell, Mrs. Bodell’s husband, organized a search party. Using snowmobiles and tracking dogs, the party found the trio in the cabin.
“Ina was singing her entire, almost encyclopedic repertoire of campfire tunes in an effort to cheer up Patience and Lou Effie,” he said, “but they were crouched in a corner begging for mercy. They said it was like listening to Die Ring des Nibelungen performed by a Brownie troop.”
When the party, dehydrated and hungry but generally fit, got to Oregon City, Mrs. Bodell and Mrs. Littbaum informed the law enforcement agencies about Ms. Smith's consumption of Miss Grandpré. Local officials arrested Ms. Smith and filed charges of negligent homicide, false imprisonment, tampering with evidence, and destruction of evidence. A jury in Clackamas County found Ms. Smith guilty on all counts and sentenced her to 15 years in the maximum security wing of the Oregon State Penitentiary.
Ms. Smith was unavailable for comment.