Children on the Oregon Trail

by Anna Rutgers van der Loeff
108 pages, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Bethany

Not a lighthearted book, but profound and certainly full of hope.


A Christian family are emigrating by wagon from one side of America to another on the Oregon trail, as are thousands of settlers. Tragically, the parents both die en route and the eldest son, John, (who is still but a child himself) must make the perilous journey across the Great Plains with his brothers and sisters. They cling to the hope of finding a specific missionary couple who, if the children could only make it to them, will adopt them.

John must undertake the enterprise of caring for his six younger siblings, enduring near death, grief, starvation and poverty. This historical account has been fictionalized, but with footnotes to credit the dramatization.


One could argue that any immorality amongst the children could almost be excused, for their dreadful situation - for example, one of the girls refuses to hold her baby sister, at one point, so John beats her until she is almost begging to hold her. This might seem unruly on both parts, but the responsibility on John meant that he had no choice but to be austere with them, and his sister was probably distressed, for the baby was incredibly sick, and cried nearly incessantly.

I use that as an example for all of their general behavior - they were, after all, only children, thrown into a tumultuous situation with no adult at their aid. Despite their grief and anguish, they never seem to blame God, and they all act on foundations of kindred love.

Spiritual Content

They are a Christian family, who hope in God. They carry with them the "family Bible", as many settlers did at the time, but I would not say that this novel is, as such, a Christian book.


It is mentioned that John might, when his siblings are being adverse, strike them or beat them on occasion, but not perpetually, and usually they are only threats.

Drug and Alcohol Content

If alcohol is mentioned it is never in an unseemly manner and never drunk to excess, as nearly all the characters, apart from the Native Americans, are Christians.

Sexual Content


Crude or Profane Language or Content

Scoldings such as "confound you, brat" are uttered, but no cursing.


In reality, the happy ending was only temporary, for their adopted parents very soon were killed by Indians. This was not mentioned in the book, however, as the likelihood of such a tragic end succeeding an initially woeful story was, probably, minimal, despite the fact that it really did happen.

This book is perhaps the most grievous but beautiful story that I have read. When John beseeches the Missionaries to adopt them, he says, with poignancy and anguish, "I just want them to love me again!" (Referring to his siblings). Many readers of this tale have found themselves weeping with the children, and, also, at their unfathomable persistence to restore their joy.

Fun Score: 5
Values Score: 5
Written for Age: 11-12

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