Another group of 1846 emigrants, the Donner Party, was not so fortunate. They were trapped by snow in the Sierra Nevada and forced to spend the winter there. Many starved to death. The following spring, rescuers set out from the California settlements and brought out the survivors, including the five orphaned daughters of George Donner. Christian and Mary Brunner took in the two youngest, Georgia and Eliza, aged four and five. The little girls called the Brunners "Grandma" and "Grandpa."
"A few months later [they] moved to Sonoma where they opened a butcher shop and dairy. The dairy on Second Street East, about two blocks south of the plaza. The butcher shop on First Street East, a few doors north of where First joins Napa Street" (Robert Parmalee, "Pioneer Sonoma")
During the Gold Rush "At the Christian Brunner home, two blocks or so from the plaza, Mrs. Brunner opened Sonoma's first hospital where under the oak trees she attempted to care for the miner's ills. Eliza Donner was by this time about seven and able to help her adopted grandmother by bringing water to the sick and in other ways assisting around the informal hospital." (Robert Parmalee, ibid)
In 1854, after several years residence in Sonoma, however, the Donner girls left. Their eldest half-sister, Elitha, had married and Georgia and Eliza went to live with her.
On September 9, 1858, Christian Brunner shot and killed his nephew, Antone Bruner. The young man had been troublesome and was forbidden the house, but returned and refused to leave when ordered. A quarrel arose, and Brunner fatally shot the younger man. "Drink, strong drink, has been his deadly foe, now the old man mourns a misspent manhood and a dishonored age." (Sonoma County Journal, 12 Feb 1859). Brunner was sentenced to eleven years imprisonment, but was released early.
From an anonymous article published in the Alta California 7 Oct 1859 (as reported by Robert Parmalee, ibid) "[Of the pioneers who came to Sonoma in 1846] [Christian] Bruner is in the State Prison, for murder, committed while under the crazing influence of strong drink."