Friday, February 12, 2010

ORPHAN WEEK - On the Oregon Trail

TITLE: The Stout-Hearted Seven: Orphaned on the Oregon Trail

AUTHOR: Neta Lohnes Frazier

WHO ARE THE ORPHANS? This is the true story of the Sager family traveling on the Oregon Trail in 1844. The oldest sibling is John who is thirteen. Then there's Frank, Catherine, Elizabeth, Matilda, Louise and lastly Rosanna, who was born on the journey.

HOW WERE THEY ORPHANED? Both parents succumbed to "camp fever" in route and were buried along the trail. Arrangements were made for the children to stay with the Whitman’s at their mission. These missionaries became their new parents until they were orphaned again, this time in an Indian massacre.

WHAT WAS ORPHAN LIFE LIKE FOR THEM? Wagon train traveling was difficult for everybody. When their parents died, the Sager children had to rely on help from the wagon train’s doctor and captain. The infant, Rosanna, was rarely seen by the other children, as nursing mothers in the train took turns trying to keep her alive. The children were fortunate to find a second life with the Whitman's where they felt as loved as they had by their own parents. Then in 1847, a wagon train came through carrying many children sick with measles. The mission Indians, the Cayuse, lost great numbers of their own children to the disease. This fueled already growing animosity and the Cayuse attacked the missionaries, killing both Mr. and Mrs. Whitman as well as John and Frank. Louise died from the measles. Catherine, Elizabeth, Matilda, and Henrietta (formally called Rosanna) were among the women and children held for a ransom that was paid by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

HOW DOES THEIR LIFE TURN-OUT? The four remaining siblings never lived together again. They were brought up in separate homes in Oregon. All the sisters married young. Henrietta was mistakenly shot and killed by a desperado at the age of twenty-six. Catherine and Matilda each had eight children and Elizabeth had nine. Catherine wrote an account of her life hoping to get it published and to use the proceeds to fund an orphanage in Mrs. Whitman’s name. Her dream was not realized but her information is often used by historians.

The site where the massacre occurred is now the Whitman Mission National Park.

Ages 9-12

Activity: Make a covered wagon. This one is easy. For a more involved one try this and then add the contents. You could also try the Oregon Trail Crossword Puzzle and Help Pack a Covered Wagon from my previous posts.

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