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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Journey West – Catherine Sager Pringle

The Westward Movement of America (1841-1880) is one of the eras of history that fascinates me. I plan to write a novel about a couple on a wagon train, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. In the meantime, I've begun to collect books with diaries, letters and essays on women who made the arduous journey.

Recently, I came to possess a new book (okay, new to me) WOMEN'S DIARIES OF THE WESTWARD JOURNEY by Lillian Schlissel. One story in it caught my attention, because 1) a TV movie was made based on it and I watched it (way back in the 1970's, I believe) and 2) the woman, Catherine Sager Pringle, shares my maiden name, Sager. Catherine's story reflects many of the dangers the pioneers faced on their journeys.

In 1844, Catherine's father, Henry decided to move his family from Missouri to Oregon. Catherine reports that the unfamiliar motion of the of the wagon “made us all sick, and the uncomfortableness of the situation was increased from the fact that it had set to rain, which made it impossible to roll back the cover and let in the fresh air. It also caused a damp and musty smell that was very nauseating.” (Some the family is pictured left, prior to their leaving for Oregon.)

Not long into the journey, Catherine's mother, Naomi, gave birth to a daughter, her seventh child. The rain continued, soaking everything inside the wagon as it “ran through the tent.” Then the wagon overturned, nearly killing her Naomi. By the tme the wagon was up-righted and everything returned to it, her mother had recovered enough from the accident to continue on the road.

However, the family's troubles were far from over. The children would jump from the wagon by way of the tongue, thus saving their father from having to stop to let them out. On one such try Catherine's dress hem “caught on an axe-handle, precipitating me under the wheels both of which passed over me, badly crushing the left leg.” Amazingly, she survived this injury without much harm. Her father set the leg and did such a good job, she hardly had a limp from it.

Her father, however, wasn't as lucky. Henry Sager was caught in buffalo stampede as he tried to turn the beasts away from his wagon. He soon died from his injuries. Catherine's mother roused herself from her own sick bed to continue with their journey to Oregon. She hired a man to drive their wagon, but he soon took off, with their gun, to hook up with a train ahead of them, where his lady love was traveling.

Weakened by her recent childbirth, heartsick over the death of her husband, Naomi soon became ill with “camp fever.” She became delirious and her infant child was cared for by other women in the train. “When she died, a grave was dug by the side of the road. In just twenty-six days, the seven Sager children were orphans; the eldest was fourteen and the youngest just a few weeks old.”

The children continued on the with the wagon train until it reached the home of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, missionaries for the Presbyterian church.. The Whitman's had lost their only child to a drowning and the couple took in all seven of the Sager children in October 1844. For the next three years, life was good and settled for them all. Then the mission was attacked by Cayuse Indians. The Whitmans and twelve others, including both Sager boys, were killed in the attack. (The Whitman Compound - Missionary Life by W.H. Jackson)

Catherine overcame the odds and survived to adulthood. She married Clark Spencer Pringle, a circuit Methodist minister and raised eight children during her long marriage. She also wrote about her family's crossing, leaving for future generations a detailed record of tragedy and triumph.


Catherine Sager Pringle, Image courtesy of the Oregon State Library
Catherine Sager Pringle, Elizabeth Sager Helm, and Matilda Sager Delaney - below

Web sites to visit:
The True Story of the Sagers
Catherine Sager's Account of Mission Life

What do you think about those who gave up all they knew to travel to the promise of new land, new opportunities? Would you join a wagon train?

Leave a comment and you could win a copy of my e-book SALVATION BRIDE: She rode into town for her own deliverance, but will Doctor Laura Ashton heal Sheriff David Slade's pain before the dark secret of her past turns up to steal his SALVATION BRIDE?

Anna Kathryn Lanier


Virginia said...

Thank you for this wonderful post! I love the Old West, especially the mid to late 1800's. If I did have a past life, I am sure that I journeyed West and lived a rich, full life during that time period. In just the short space of your review, you covered the rawness and the immediacy of the daily life of those who travled West. Left along the trail were family heirlooms, service animals, and loved ones buried where they died. Most of all, I admire the women who made the journey and made countless sacrifices to keep their families as unbroken as possible. gcwhiskas at aol dot com

Phyllis Campbell said...

Good blog! I, too, enjoy reading about history. I have ancestors who crossed the plains in search of their own religious freedom. Many of them had hardships, but to them it was worth the price.


Jolan Warren Bishop said...

Fascinating story. I've always enjoyed reading about the westward expansion, especially after living near parts of the Oregon Trail in Idaho.

Anita Davison said...

What a wonderful and yet sad story which I am sure was repeated often in those harsh pioneer days. It makes me think how shallow we are nowadays to worry about trivia like body image and the meaning of life when people like this knew exactly what it was all about - survival.

Obe said...

I can't imagine how those children made it through. What a shove to adulthood for them. It brought tears to my eyes.


Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Thanks for all the comments. It really was a harsh journey...the diaries retell counts of the hundreds of graves, the cholera and typhus epidemics that swept through the trains, the food shortages, the bad water, the no grass for the animals. I shudder to think what they went through, all for the purpose of providing a better life for themselves.

Toni V.S. said...

Having lived in Nebraska and actually seen the Oregon Trail and followed part of through the Sand Hills, I dread its loss. Erosion is gradually erasing the tracks of the wagons driven by the pioneers who braved so much and there's really no way to preserve them without destroying them further.

Maryann Miller said...

Gosh, and we think we have it tough today. There was something so amazingly strong about these pioneer people to carry on in the face of all kinds of adversity. We whine if we lose electricity for a day. At least I do. :-)

Mary Ricksen said...

I think it depends on whether I was old or what. In my sixties or seventies no thank you. But younger, land HOOOO, let me go. Especially if I had a good reason to want to leave where I lived.
I woulda packed light and wore pants!

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

And we wonder why American women are so strong. What a horrific journey. Makes my troubles look less onerous!

J K Maze said...

Wow! Absolutely fascinating. It also brings back a memory. Years ago while in the hospital, my roommate was a very old woman who had traveled west by wagon train. She had many wonderful stories. I love history and will look for the Sager book. I also have plans for a western romance, historical of course, but that won't happen until early next year.

Joan K. Maze

Lucy Naylor Kubash said...

I've always liked wagon train stories and I consider the women who made the journies to be quite amazing. Just the thought of giving birth in those circumstances makes me shiver. I often wonder how many didn't really want to go but had no choice? They did help to shape our country as it is today and I'll always admire their courage.

Kathryn Albright said...

Such a sad story! But probably very much like many of the tales of life on the Oregon trail. I read stuff like this and think I should never complain again. What a hard life these women had. It's a testement to their strength and determination that they made it all the way to Oregon.

Patricia Barraclough said...

What interesting reading. Went to the links you provided. It is amazing that so many people survived the perils of pioneer life. Hope we get back out to that part of the country. It would be nice to visit the Whitman mission NHS. Thank you for an informative post. Your book sounds interesting.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Thanks for all the comments. Mary, I've read the story of one women who left for the west in her 60's. Her brother-in-law was in his 70's. I have her diary or parts of it, at least.

LOL about the electricity. I whine, too. Just the other day, we lost it for 2 hours, just as I was about to start supper. Needless to say, we had takeout.

Congratulations to Toni, she won the drawing a copy of my western story SALVATION BRIDE.

Paty Jager said...

It always amazes me when I read about the trials so many had while traveling to an area they had no idea existed other than by word of mouth. The sacrifices the families made you wouldn't see people today making.

Great post! As an Oregonian I've read a lot about The Whitmans and the Sagers.

Viagra Online said...

The Westward Movement of America is so interesting so I think that this era is so important to USA, becaue the people did a lot of things for the future.

Anonymous said...

One of the girls died when she was 26 she was mistaken for an indean and shot.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Wonderful blog. The hardships and loss these pioneer families endured was beyond imagination--and yet they went on. I have such admiration for their bravery and stalwart character.
All the best to you, Anna.