The True Story of the Sager Family
by Sarah Kirk
In the days
of the Pioneers, many people dreamed of going to
William Shaw: “Linn’s homesteading bill in
congress was the first start that set me to thinking of coming here. Another inducement was to settle my family, a
family of boys who were getting to be men.
I was not able to settle them in
Shaw, a veteran of the war of 1812, married in 1822. Twenty years later he joined a wagon train going
west. He was chosen leader of 25 wagons
in the 100 wagon train, including the Sager family.
was a simple farmer, and when the wagon train (one of four that year) passed
by, Henry, his wife Naomi and their children John 14, Frank 12,
start, every one enjoyed the journey, the children ran laughing and playing,
and the adults would play musical instruments in the evening when they camped
for the night. Catherine Sager: “The first
encampments were a great pleasure to us children. We were five girls and two boys, ranging from
the girl baby to be born on the way to the oldest boy, hardly old enough to be
any help.” 2
It may have
been all fun and games at the start of the journey, but not too far from the
north bank of the
Not too far
hired a young man to drive the oxen for them and the doctor who set Catherine’s
leg tended to Mrs. Sager, who had become a "lunatic" after her husband’s
along as best they could with the good doctor’s help. Naomi planned on getting her family to the Whitman
Mission and spending the winter there before going to the
“Travelling in this condition over a road clouded with dust, she
suffered intensely. She talked of her
husband, addressing him as though present, beseeching him in piteous tones to
relieve her sufferings, until at last she became unconscious.” 3
was cared for by the other women of the train; the same women took care of
Naomi Sager, washing the dust off her face and making her comfortable. The road they traveled the day Naomi died was
a rough one, and she moaned piteously all the way. That night she died near
wagon train adopted the children and helped take care of them, but Captain Shaw
had primary responsibility, even dividing his last loaf of bread to feed the
children. Stopping at the
On the last day of September the train arrived at Grande Ronde, where one of the younger girls caught her dress on fire and would have burned to death if the doctor, at the risk of burning his hands, hadn’t saved her.
Sager: “We had been out of flour and living on meat alone, so a few were
sent in advance to get supplies from Dr. Whitman and return to us. Having so light a load we could travel faster
than the other teams, and went on with Captain Shaw and the advance. Through the
was sickly and likely to never recover, but under the care of Mrs. Whitman, she
soon returned to good health. At first
the Sagers were shy, but soon warmed to the loving compassion of the Whitman’s
and began calling them Father and Mother.
The Whitman’s were stern disciplinarians, holding them in strict
subjection, but any effort to obey the rules was rewarded. Life was pleasant at the mission; they lived
a life filled with hard work and domestic duties, with much time spent in
school studies, and reading the Bible.
years, a measles epidemic swept away more than half of the Indian tribe,
including most of their children. Dr.
Whitman tried to treat them, but his medicine was no more effective than an
Indian medicine man. While the Indians
died, most of the ailing white settlers lived. Lies were spread saying that Dr. Whitman was poisoning
the Indian patients. For this perceived
act of murder, the Indians decided to take revenge on the Whitman’s. However, it is unclear why the Indians
massacred ten other people instead of just taking revenge by murdering Mr. and
After seeing their adoptive mother shot to death, and finding the dead bodies of other family members, they were kept captive by the Indians in one of the adobe houses adjacent to the Whitman house. Five days later, Louisa died of the measles.
About a week
after the massacre, a trapper from the
there were perilous adventures and mishaps, the Sager girls eventually ended up
Many of the
families that made it to the
References for The True Story of the Sager Family
2 Catherine Sager Pringle, Across the Plains in 1844 (Fairfield Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1989), p5.
3 Catherine Sager Pringle, Across the Plains in 1844 (Fairfield: Ye Galleon Press 1989), p8.
4 Catherine Sager Pringle, Across the Plains in 1844 (Fairfield: Ye Galleon Press 1989), p9.
Stephenie Flora http://www.oregonpioneers.com/ortrail.htm
Across the Plains in 1844, by Catherine Sager Pringle
A Survivor’s Recollections of the Whitman Massacre, by Matilda Sager
My name is Stephenie Flora. Thanks for stopping by. Return to [ Home Page ] All [ Comments and Inquiries ] are welcome.