"Seven Alone", 1974s Oregon Trail-Like Live-Action Movie
In 1974, the same year that the Oregon Trail computer game debuted, a film production company called Audio Service released a live-action family movie called Seven Alone. The film was the fictionalized version of a true story of a thirteen-year-old boy, John Sager, who, in 1843, led his six younger siblings some 2,000 miles along the famous Oregon Trail in search of a better life. Seven Alone was definitely a tragic story, but it gave its audience a good idea of the hardship of the Oregon Trail and ended at a happy moment rather than continuing the story to its even more tragic end. Let’s look at the seventies movie, Seven Alone, and the true story on which it was based.
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In the early 1970s, when Seven Alone and the computer game, Oregon Trail, came out, the current trend in America was one of nostalgia for the pioneer era. Books, television shows, and movies about westward settlers and the Old West were quite popular. Even peasant tops and prairie dresses were in style. It was in this atmosphere that Audio Services Company decided to produce a movie based on the 1844 written memoir of Catherine Sager Pringle, Across the Plains.
The Oregon Trail
Beginning in the middle of the 1800s, pioneers followed a 2,000-mile trail from Independence, Missouri, to its final stop in Oregon. The trail took travelers through what is now present-day Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. The route passed through some of the roughest and more treacherous wilderness areas on the continent at the time. The Oregon Trail was not just used by pioneers in search of farmland. It was also used by missionaries who hoped to convert the Native Americans to Christianity. One of these was Marcus Whitman, a Protestant minister and doctor. In 1835, he traversed the Oregon Trail for the first time to show his followers that it was safe for them to journey to his mission that he set up near Walla Walla, Washington. Remember his name. It’ll be important later on.
Synopsis of Seven Alone
Seven Alone, which was intended to be a family film, centered around 13-year-old John Sager, played by Stewart Peterson (who also starred in Where the Red Fern Grows), who was a rather lazy and rebellious boy at the beginning. Following the deaths of both of his parents along the Oregon Trail, John steps up. He is determined to keep his siblings together and to complete their father’s goal of reaching Oregon, despite his youth and the challenges of the Oregon Trail. The children endure Indian attacks, accidents, illness, starvation, and extreme weather before reaching the Whitman mission. The eldest sister, Catherine, suffers a painful broken leg and is rendered helpless. In addition, the children must care for their newborn sister who was born on the trail. Their mother died shortly after giving birth.
The Real Sager Children
Many wagon trains heading west passed by the farm of Henry Sager. Finally, he could stand it no longer. He and his wife, Naomi, packed their wagon with all their essential belongings and joined a wagon train led by Captain Shaw. Joining them were their six children, 13-year-old John, 12-year-old Frank, 9-year-old Catherine, 7-year-old Elizabeth, 5-year-old Matilda, and 3-year-old Louisa. Naomi gave birth to another child, a daughter named Henrietta, after the wagon train departed. The infant was named after her father who died of blood poisoning near Laramie, Wyoming. Naomi contracted a fever after childbirth and soon joined her husband in death. The members of the wagon train debated whether to send the Sager children back east or help keep an eye on them as they continued forward. Captain Shaw himself helped John Sager and the children reach the end of the trail.
The End of the Movie
Seven Alone ends with the Sager children, weak, filthy, and sick, reaching Dr. Whitman and his wife at their mission. They are taken in by the Whitmans and nursed back to health. Indeed, Catherine Sager’s memoir tells us that the children were unofficially adopted by the Whitmans and enjoyed life at their farm. The Whitmans believed in hard work and discipline and the children thrived in that environment. What Seven Alone does not tell us is that trouble was brewing.
The Rest of the Story
About three years after the Sager children arrived, a measles outbreak swept through the area. Dr. Whitman tried to treat the Native Americans but had little luck. Many of them died. Few of the white men at the mission, however, died in the outbreak. We now know it was because they had previously been exposed to measles and their bodies had built up natural defenses against the disease. But the Native Americans did not know this. They believed that Whitman was poisoning the Indians with his medicine. They plotted to retaliate. On November 27, 1847, they attacked the mission and killed Dr. Whitman, his wife, John and Frank Sager, and eight other people. The Sager girls were taken captive by the Native Americans and released after a week. Louisa Sager contracted measles soon after and died. The rest of the Sager children lived into old age. Since Seven Alone was centered on the oldest boy, John, the filmmakers ended the story with his victorious arrival at the Whitman mission so the film had a happy ending.