John Turner had a long history on the frontier before his involvement with the Donner relief. He had come to California in 1826 as a member of Jedediah Smith’s historic first overland expedition. In the 1830s he was a member of several fur trading expeditions led by Michel Laframboise and Ewing Young, and the 1840s found him hunting and trapping in California, often with Old Greenwood. It was on one such trip that he met Edwin Bryant on November 2, 1846. “The swearing of Turner, a man of immense frame and muscular power, during our evening’s conversation, was almost terrific. I had heard mountain swearing before,” the diarist wrote, “but his went far beyond all former examples. He could do all the swearing for our army in Mexico and then have a surplus.”
Greenwood recruited Turner and other trappers for the Second Relief, led by James F. Reed. A few days after leaving the camps Reed sent Turner, Gendreau, and Dofar ahead to find caches of food the party had left on the way up. That night a three-day blizzard struck; it caused great suffering among the refugees at Starved Camp, and caught the three mountain men, too. Turner was so badly frozen that his companions had to help him out of the mountains. He reportedly died in 1847 after accidentally shooting himself in the knee.
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