The Oregon Trail (series)

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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
December 6, 2011
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 school children 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 Oregon Trail debuted to Rawitsch's class on December 3, 1971. Despite bugs, the game was immediately popular, and he made it available to others on Minneapolis Public Schools' time-sharing service. When the next semester ended, Rawitsch deleted the program, but he printed out a copy of the source code.[4]


In 1974, the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC), a state-funded organization that developed educational software for the classroom, hired Rawitsch. He rebuilt the game, adding events for choices based on the actual historical probabilities for what happened to travelers on the trail at each location in the game. He based much of the options in the game on historical narratives of people on the trail that he had read. Rawitsch uploaded The Oregon Trail into the organization's time-sharing network, where it could be accessed by schools across Minnesota. The game became one of the network's most popular programs, with thousands of players monthly.[4][5]

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.[6] 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-released as a standalone game, with substantially improved graphics, in 1985. The new version was also updated to more accurately reflect the real Oregon Trail, incorporating notable geographic landmarks as well as human characters with whom the player can interact.[7]

By 1995, The Oregon Trail comprised about one-third of MECC's $30 million in annual revenue.[8] 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)[9] followed by Oregon Trail II in 1995,[4] The Oregon Trail 3rd Edition in 1997,[10] and 4th[11] and 5th editions.[12] As of 2011, more than 65 million copies of The Oregon Trail have been sold.[4]


Various games in the series were released with inconsistent titles.

The Oregon Trail games
Title Year Developer Publisher Platform
The Oregon Trail 1971 Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger HP 2100
The Oregon Trail 1975 Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger MECC CDC Cyber 70
The Oregon Trail 1978 John Cook (ported) MECC Apple II
Oregon 1980 MECC MECC Apple II
The Oregon Trail 1982 MECC MECC Atari 8-Bit
Oregon 1984 MECC MECC Commodore 64
The Oregon Trail 1985 R. Philip Bouchard (designer), MECC Brøderbund Apple II, Atari 8-Bit, ColecoVision, Commodore 64, DOS, Macintosh
The Oregon Trail: Classic Edition 1990 DOS, Macintosh
The Oregon Trail Deluxe 1992 DOS, Macintosh
The Oregon Trail Version 1.2 1993 Windows 3.x, Windows
Oregon Trail II 1995 MECC SoftKey DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows, Macintosh
The Oregon Trail 3rd Edition 1997 MECC MECC Windows, Macintosh
The Oregon Trail 4th Edition 2001 MECC The Learning Company Windows, Macintosh
The Oregon Trail 5th Edition 2002 Windows, Macintosh
The Oregon Trail 2009 Gameloft Shanghai, Gameloft New York Gameloft DSiware
The Oregon Trail 2011 DoubleTapGames LLC Crave Entertainment Wii, 3DS
The Oregon Trail 2012 Windows Phone
The Oregon Trail 2016 Pressman Toy Corporation Pressman Toy Corporation card game sold at Target
Handheld Oregon Trail 2018 handheld device sold at Target


The game was popular among elementary school students worldwide from the mid-1980s to mid-2000s, as many computers came bundled with the game.[citation needed] MECC followed up on the success of The Oregon Trail with similar titles such as The Yukon Trail and The Amazon Trail.[13] David H. Ahl published Westward Ho!, set on the Oregon Trail in 1848, as a type-in game in 1986.[14]

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,[15] 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.[16][17][4] A new release for the iPhone and iPod Touch is also available from Gameloft.[18] The game went live in the iTunes App Store on March 11, 2009.[19] On January 7, 2010, the Palm webOS version was released to the Palm App Catalog. On November 11, 2010, an Xbox Live version was released on Windows Phone 7.

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, which had the player using 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.[20]

On February 2, 2011, a new version of the game was released on the social networking site Facebook.[21] This version was removed from Facebook when Blue Fang Games closed.[22]

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.[23]

In 2012, the Willamette Heritage Center (WHC) and the Statesman Journal newspaper in Salem, Oregon created Oregon Trail Live as a live-action event.[24] Teams compete as they master 10 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 of meat became pulling a 200-pound man up a hill in a child's red wagon while he recites historical meat facts and points out choice cuts. Independence, Missouri is at one end of the grounds and the Willamette Valley is 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 in 2016 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.[25]

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.[26]

In 2016, the game was parodied in an episode of Teen Titans Go! entitled "Oregon Trail" (Season 3, Episode 48). In the episode, Robin forces his teammates to go on a real-life adventure on actual Oregon Trail complete with wagons and period clothing. During the episode, several aspects of the game are parodied and the game's text and options are parodied. Due to the hazards of the Trail, all of Robin's teammates die while Robin refuses to give up until he reaches Oregon. After finally reaching Oregon, his ghostly teammates ask Robin what he has learned and Robin reveals he has caught dysentery.[citation needed]

Also in 2016, Pressman Toy Corporation released The Oregon Trail card game based on the video game.[27]


  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. ^ Grosvenor, Emily (September 25, 2014). "Going West: The World of Live Action, Competitive Oregon Trail". The Atlantic. Retrieved September 25, 2014.
  6. ^ Rawitsch, Dan (May – June 1978). "Oregon Trail". Creative Computing. pp. 132–139. Retrieved January 22, 2015.
  7. ^ "You Have Died of Dysentery: Exploring The Oregon Trail's Design History". Retrieved October 13, 2017.
  8. ^ Interview with Dale Lafrenz. Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (accessed July 1, 2012)
  9. ^ Oregon Trail Game Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ The Oregon Trail: 3rd Edition for Windows (1997) – MobyGames
  11. ^ Oregon Trail 4th Edition: Software
  12. ^ The Oregon Trail, 5th Edition: Software
  13. ^ Coventry, Joshua. "Educational computing for the masses". SiliconUser. Archived from the original on June 28, 2007. Retrieved June 12, 2007.
  14. ^ Ahl, David H. (1986). "Westward Ho!". David H. Ahl's BASIC Computer Adventures. Microsoft Press. ISBN 0-914845-92-6.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Beidler, Aurae (January 31, 2008), Facebook Oregon Trail Application: Social Networking Website's Version of the Original Educational Game, Suite 101
  18. ^ Buchanan, Levi (February 25, 2009). "Oregon Trail iPhone Hands-On". IGN. Archived from the original on November 2, 2014. Retrieved February 27, 2009.
  19. ^ Alaburda, Bob (March 11, 2009). "The Oregon Trail Out Now-On". ThePortableGamer. Archived from the original on March 14, 2009. Retrieved August 29, 2015.
  20. ^ On the Trail of the Oregon Trail by Jimmy Maher on (source code: oregon1975.bas and oregon1978.bas, March 27, 2011)
  21. ^ Jackson, A. Diallo (January 28, 2011). "Classic games coming to Facebook". Archived from the original on November 2, 2014. Retrieved November 2, 2014.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ "Organ Trail". hasproductions. Archived from the original on November 2, 2014. Retrieved November 2, 2014.
  24. ^ "Oregon Trail Live". Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  25. ^ "The Trail To Oregon!".
  26. ^ "The Oregon Trail Game 5K". Archived from the original on July 16, 2015.
  27. ^ Krol, Jacob (July 29, 2016). "The Oregon Trail is back, but this time it's a card game". CNET. Retrieved December 12, 2016.

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