My former wife was a Breen, descended from Patrick H. Breen, born in Ireland and I don't know when, who was married to Maria Whalen. (Caution: many, many Breens and Whalens lived in their county in Ireland.)
From this marriage, I have the name of one child Charles Edward Breen, born maybe about 1880 and probably near Winonah in Illinois. Charles died in 1976 in Iowa. Can you connect with these people? I am collecting family information for my children. Obviously I do not have much information.
I suspect the Donner Party story was an old joke.