Catherine Sager Pringle was nine years old when she accompanied her family across the plains from Iowa to the Oregon Country in 1844. Her leg was broken in multiple places when she was caught beneath the heavy wheels of a wagon.
Here is how she described the event:
“August 1st we nooned in a beautiful grove on the north side of the Platte. We had by this time got used to climbing in and out of the wagon when in motion. When performing this feat that afternoon my dress caught on an axle helve and I was thrown under the wagon wheel, which passed over and badly crushed my limb before father could stop the team. He picked me up and saw the extent of the injury when the injured limb hung dangling in the air.
In a broken voice he exclaimed: “My dear child, your leg is broken all to pieces!” The news soon spread along the train and a halt was called. A surgeon was found and the limb set; then we pushed on the same night to Laramie, where we arrived soon after dark. This accident confined me to the wagon the remainder of the long journey.”
Despite the fact that the injury could have been fatal, she survived—walking with a limp for the rest of her life.
Her father, Henry Pringle died of “mountain fever” after crossing the Green River in what we now call Wyoming. Her mother, Naomi Carney Pringle, died of a fever a few days later, near what is now Twin Falls, Idaho.
The wagon train arrived in Oregon in October of 1844; Catherine and her siblings were taken to the Whitman Mission at Waiilatpu , near present day Walla Walla, Washington. Shy at first, the Sager children soon warmed up to Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife Narcissa Prentiss Whitman. They began calling them ‘Father’ and ‘Mother”. The next three years passed pleasantly, with the children spending much time with their school studies, reading the Bible, working hard, and performing domestic duties.
Catherine later wrote:
“We were in the schoolroom from Monday morning until Saturday noon. The afternoon was a holiday. If the weather was pleasant, the preparations for the Sabbath being completed, Mrs. Whitman took us out for a ramble over the hills. In inclement weather we were provided amusement in the house; the doctor believed in young folks having plenty of exercise.”
“The housework was hired done in winter, so the children could follow their studies without hindrance; Mrs. Whitman and the girls did the work in the summer. Each of us had her allotted task and was expected to promptly do her duty. At 11 we bathed in the river; dinner was served at 12. When the work was done we all sat in a large room at our sewing, save one of us, who read aloud to the rest. Supper was at 5 o’clock, and after that was over time until retiring for the night was devoted to recreation.”