The Oregon Trail (series)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Oregon Trail
The Learning Company
Creator(s)Don Rawitsch
Bill Heinemann
Paul Dillenberger
First releaseThe Oregon Trail
December 3, 1971
Latest releaseThe Oregon Trail
April 2, 2021
Spin-offsThe Amazon Trail
The Yukon Trail
MayaQuest: The Mystery Trail
Africa Trail

The Oregon Trail is a series of educational computer games. The first game was originally developed by Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger in 1971 and produced by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) in 1974. The original game was designed to teach 8th grade schoolchildren about the realities of 19th-century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail. The player assumes the role of a wagon leader guiding a party of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon's Willamette Valley via a covered wagon in 1848.


In 1971, Don Rawitsch, a senior at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, taught an 8th grade history class as a student teacher.[1][2] He used HP Time-Shared BASIC running on an HP 2100 minicomputer to write a computer program to help teach the subject.[3] Rawitsch recruited two friends and fellow student teachers, Paul Dillenberger and Bill Heinemann, to help.[4]

The original core gameplay concepts that have been included in every subsequent version are initial supply purchase, occasional food hunting, occasional supply purchase at forts, inventory management of supplies, variable travel speed depending upon conditions, frequent misfortunes, and game over upon death or successfully reaching Oregon.[5]

The game that would be later named The Oregon Trail debuted to Rawitsch's class on December 3, 1971. Although the minicomputer's teletype and paper tape terminals that predate display screens were awkward to children, the game was immediately popular, and he made it available to users of the minicomputer time-sharing network owned by Minneapolis Public Schools. When the next semester ended, Rawitsch printed out a copy of the source code and deleted it from the minicomputer.[5][4]


In 1974, the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC), a state-funded organization that developed educational software for the classroom, hired Rawitsch. He uploaded the Oregon Trail game into the organization's time-sharing network by retyping it, copied from a printout of the 1971 BASIC code. Then, he modified the frequency and details of the random events that occurred in the game, to more accurately reflect the accounts he had read in the historical diaries of people who had traveled the trail. In 1975, when his updates were finished, he made the game titled OREGON available to all the schools on the timeshare network. The game became one of the network's most popular programs, with thousands of players monthly.[5][4][6]

Rawitsch published the source code of The Oregon Trail, written in BASIC 3.1 for the CDC Cyber 70/73-26, in Creative Computing's May–June 1978 issue.[7] That year, MECC began encouraging schools to adopt the Apple II microcomputer.[4] John Cook adapted the game for the Apple II, and it appeared on A.P.P.L.E.'s PDS Disk series No. 108. A further version called Oregon Trail 2 was adapted in June 1978 by J.P. O'Malley. The game was further released as part of MECC's Elementary series, on Elementary Volume 6 in 1980. The game was titled simply Oregon, and featured minimal graphics. It proved so popular that it was re-made under the same title, with substantially improved graphics and expanded gameplay, in 1985. The new version was also updated to more accurately reflect the real Oregon Trail, incorporating notable geographic landmarks as well as human non-player characters with whom the player can interact.[8]

By 1995, The Oregon Trail generated about one-third of MECC's $30 million in annual revenue.[9] An updated version, Oregon Trail Deluxe, was released for DOS and Macintosh in 1992, as well as Windows in 1993 (under the title of simply The Oregon Trail Version 1.2)[10] followed by Oregon Trail II in 1995,[4] The Oregon Trail 3rd Edition in 1997,[11] and 4th[12] and 5th editions.[13] As of 2011, more than 65 million copies of The Oregon Trail have been sold.[4]


Games in the series were released with varying titles.

The Oregon Trail games
Title Year Developer Publisher Platform
The Oregon Trail 1971 Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger Not published HP 2100
OREGON 1975 Modified by Don Rawitsch MECC (on timeshare system) CDC Cyber 70, HP2000
OREGON 1978 John Cook (ported from timeshare version) MECC (as download) Apple II
OREGON (part of Elementary Volume 6) 1980 Unchanged from 1978 version MECC (on floppy disk) Apple II
Oregon (part of Expeditions) 1983 MECC (ported from 1980 Apple II version) MECC Atari 8-Bit
Oregon (part of Expeditions) 1984 MECC (ported from 1980 Apple II version) MECC Commodore 64, Radio Shack TRS-80
The Oregon Trail 1985 R. Philip Bouchard (designer), MECC MECC Apple II
The Oregon Trail 1990 MECC (direct copy of 1985 Apple II version) MECC DOS
The Oregon Trail 1991 MECC MECC Macintosh (B&W)
The Oregon Trail Deluxe 1992 MECC MECC DOS (with mouse support)
The Oregon Trail 1993 MECC MECC Windows 3.x, Windows
Oregon Trail II 1995 Wayne Studer (designer), MECC SoftKey DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows, Macintosh
The Oregon Trail 3rd Edition 1997 The Learning Company The Learning Company Windows, Macintosh
The Oregon Trail 4th Edition 1999 The Learning Company The Learning Company Windows, Macintosh
The Oregon Trail 5th Edition 2001 The Learning Company The Learning Company Windows, Macintosh
The Oregon Trail 2009 Gameloft Shanghai, Gameloft New York Gameloft DSiware
The Oregon Trail: Gold Rush 2010 Gameloft Gameloft J2ME
The Oregon Trail HD[14] 2010 Gameloft Gameloft Windows Phone, Android, iOS
The Oregon Trail: American Settler 2011 Gameloft Gameloft iOS, J2ME
The Oregon Trail 2011 DoubleTapGames LLC Crave Entertainment Wii, 3DS
The Oregon Trail Card Game[15] 2016 Pressman Toy Corporation Pressman Toy Corporation Card game
The Oregon Trail[16][17] 2018 Basic Fun! Basic Fun! Handheld device
The Oregon Trail: Journey to Willamette Valley[18] 2018 Pressman Toy Corporation Pressman Toy Corporation Board game
The Oregon Trail 2021 Gameloft Apple Apple Arcade
2022 Gameloft Nintendo Switch,[19] Steam, Microsoft Store


The game was popular among American elementary school students from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, as many computers came bundled with the game. MECC followed up on the success of The Oregon Trail with similar titles such as The Yukon Trail and The Amazon Trail.[20] David H. Ahl published Westward Ho!, set on the Oregon Trail in 1848, as a type-in game in 1986.[21]

The phrase "You have died of dysentery" has been popularized on T-shirts[4] and other promotional merchandise. Another popular phrase from the game is "Here lies andy; peperony and chease", which is a player-generated epitaph featured on an in-game tombstone saved to a frequently bootlegged copy of the game disk,[22] and likely a direct reference to a popular Tombstone pizza television commercial from the 1990s.

The game resurfaced in 2008 when Gameloft created an updated version for cell phones.[23][24][4] A new release for the iPhone and iPod Touch was also available from Gameloft.[25] The game went live in the iTunes App Store on March 11, 2009.[26] In 2010, the Palm webOS version was released to the Palm App Catalog on January 7, and Xbox Live version was released on Windows Phone 7 on November 11.

The cell phone version of the game is similar to the original, but varies in that the player can choose one of three different wagons: a basic wagon, a prairie schooner or a Conestoga wagon. The player can also choose to become a banker, a carpenter, or a farmer, each of which has unique benefits. Unlike the computer version of the game, players in the iPhone and iPod Touch version do not need to buy guns and bullets. The game has received a major update, in which the player uses trading and crafting to upgrade their wagon, buy food, and cure ailments.

In 2011, the 1975 and 1978 BASIC source code versions of the game were reconstructed.[27]

In February 2011, a new version of the game was released on the social networking site Facebook.[28] This version was removed from Facebook when Blue Fang Games closed.[29] A new version of the game was also released for the Wii and 3DS that year, and received a negative critical response.[30]

In 2012, a parody called Organ Trail was released by the Men Who Wear Many Hats for browsers, iOS, and Android, with the setting changed to human survivors fleeing a zombie apocalypse.[31]

In 2012, the Willamette Heritage Center (WHC) and the Statesman Journal newspaper in Salem, Oregon created Oregon Trail Live as a live-action event.[32] Teams competed through ten challenges on the grounds of the WHC. Challenges were based loosely on the game: hunting for game was done by shooting Nerf guns at college students wearing wigs and cloth antlers, while carrying 200 pounds (91 kg) of meat became pulling a 200-pound man up a hill in a child's red wagon while he recited historical meat facts and pointed out choice cuts. Independence, Missouri, was at one end of the grounds, and the Willamette Valley was at the other end. The WHC received the 2014 Outstanding Educator Award from the Oregon-California Trails Association for this event.

In 2013, a dark comedy entitled Oregon Trail: The Play! received its first professional production by New Orleans-based theatre company The NOLA Project, and was subsequently published three years later by Alligator Pear Publishing, LLC. The play closely parodies the game, following a westward-headed family as they stock up on provisions for their oxen-led wagons and do their best to survive river crossings, illnesses, hunting, highway robbery, and a host of other mid-nineteenth-century dilemmas. Audience members are asked to help provide food for the family in a mid-play Nerf shooting gallery.

In 2014, a parody musical called The Trail to Oregon! was made by the musical theater company StarKid Productions, with several references being made towards the game.[33]

In 2015, a 5k fun run held in Oregon City (the end of the route of the Oregon Trail) was modeled after the game with choice points along the route.[34]

In 2016, the game was parodied in an episode of Teen Titans Go! entitled "Oregon Trail" (Season 3, Episode 48).[citation needed]

Also that year, Pressman Toy Corporation released The Oregon Trail card game based on the video game.[35]

In 2018, a handheld electronic version of the game was produced by the company Basic Fun. This battery-powered version featured a small TV monitor that replicated the look and sounds of one of the older PC/Apple versions of the game.

The game was referenced on the May 2020 edition of WWE Smackdown. On that episode Otis told both John Morrison and The Miz that his usual tag team partner Tucker couldn't make it to the tag team match that night, "because he got dysentery on The Oregon Trail".[36][37]


  1. ^ Lipinski, Jed (July 29, 2013). "The Legend of The Oregon Trail". mental_floss. Archived from the original on July 31, 2013. Retrieved July 31, 2013.
  2. ^ Shea, Jeremy (February 24, 2014). "An Interview With the Teacher-Turned-Developer Behind 'Oregon Trail'". Yester: Then For Now. Retrieved August 29, 2015.
  3. ^ Veeneman, Dan. "Hewlett-Packard HP 2000 Time Shared BASIC". Retrieved April 22, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Lussenhop, Jessica (January 19, 2011). "Oregon Trail: How three Minnesotans forged its path". City Pages. Archived from the original on January 23, 2011. Retrieved January 20, 2011.
  5. ^ a b c Bouchard, R. Philip (June 29, 2017). "How I Managed to Design the Most Successful Educational Computer Game of All Time". The Philipendium. Medium. Retrieved August 5, 2019.
  6. ^ Grosvenor, Emily (September 25, 2014). "Going West: The World of Live Action, Competitive Oregon Trail". The Atlantic. Retrieved September 25, 2014.
  7. ^ Rawitsch, Dan (May–June 1978). "Oregon Trail". Creative Computing. pp. 132–139. Retrieved January 22, 2015.
  8. ^ Bouchard, R. Philip (July 23, 2017). "You Have Died of Dysentery: Exploring The Oregon Trail's Design History". Retrieved October 13, 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ Interview with Dale Lafrenz. Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (accessed July 1, 2012)
  10. ^ Oregon Trail Game Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ The Oregon Trail: 3rd Edition for Windows (1997) – MobyGames
  12. ^ Oregon Trail 4th Edition: Software
  13. ^ The Oregon Trail, 5th Edition: Software
  14. ^ Jordan, Jon (November 27, 2010). "Gameloft primes five HD games for Windows Phone 7 US launch". Retrieved August 13, 2022.
  15. ^ "The Oregon Trail Card Game". Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  16. ^ Welch, Chris (March 24, 2018). "The Oregon Trail handheld game is a really fun nostalgia gadget". The Verge. Vox Media. Retrieved August 13, 2022.
  17. ^ Davenport, Corbin (December 16, 2019). "Get the Oregon Trail handheld game for just $8.50 right now". PC Gamer. Future plc. Retrieved August 13, 2022.
  18. ^ "The Oregon Trail: Journey to Willamette Valley". Retrieved November 7, 2019.
  19. ^ "'The Oregon Trail' is coming to Nintendo Switch". November 1, 2022. Retrieved November 22, 2022.
  20. ^ Coventry, Joshua. "Educational computing for the masses". SiliconUser. Archived from the original on June 28, 2007. Retrieved June 12, 2007.
  21. ^ Ahl, David H. (1986). "Westward Ho!". David H. Ahl's BASIC Computer Adventures. Microsoft Press. ISBN 0-914845-92-6.
  22. ^ Stacy Conradt (May 11, 2009). "The Quick 10: The Oregon Trail Computer Game". Mental floss. Archived from the original on November 2, 2014. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
  23. ^ Ericson, Tracy. "The Oregon Trail: Contracting dysentery has never been so much fun". PocketGamer. Archived from the original on November 2, 2014. Retrieved October 10, 2008.
  24. ^ Beidler, Aurae (January 31, 2008), Facebook Oregon Trail Application: Social Networking Website's Version of the Original Educational Game, Suite 101
  25. ^ Buchanan, Levi (February 25, 2009). "Oregon Trail iPhone Hands-On". IGN. Archived from the original on November 2, 2014. Retrieved February 27, 2009.
  26. ^ Alaburda, Bob (March 11, 2009). "The Oregon Trail Out Now-On". ThePortableGamer. Archived from the original on March 14, 2009. Retrieved August 29, 2015.
  27. ^ On the Trail of the Oregon Trail by Jimmy Maher on (source code: oregon1975.bas and oregon1978.bas, March 27, 2011)
  28. ^ Jackson, A. Diallo (January 28, 2011). "Classic games coming to Facebook". Archived from the original on November 2, 2014. Retrieved November 2, 2014.
  29. ^ Osborne, Joe (December 19, 2011). "Carmen Sandiego, Oregon Trail on Facebook will be no more next year". news. Archived from the original on November 2, 2014. Retrieved June 22, 2013.
  30. ^ "Oregon Trail Review". GameSpot. Retrieved January 31, 2020.
  31. ^ "Organ Trail". hasproductions. Archived from the original on November 2, 2014. Retrieved November 2, 2014.
  32. ^ "Oregon Trail Live". Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  33. ^ "The Trail To Oregon!".
  34. ^ "The Oregon Trail Game 5K". Archived from the original on July 16, 2015.
  35. ^ Krol, Jacob (July 29, 2016). "The Oregon Trail is back, but this time it's a card game". CNET. Retrieved December 12, 2016.
  36. ^ "The Oregon Trail (Video Game 1971)". IMDb.
  37. ^ ""WWE Smackdown!" WWE Money in the Bank 2020 Fallout (TV Episode 2020) - IMDb". IMDb.

External links[edit]