The Sager family, including seven children, set out on the Oregon trail in 1844. Accidents and disease made it a dangerous trip, and both parents died along the way. The orphans made it to the Whitman Mission in Walla Walla, Washington, but their lives were still in jeopardy. In 1847, members of the Cayuse tribe attacked the mission and killed the Whitmans and others living there. Catherine was among those who were taken as hostages, and she survived the massacre. She later wrote about these harrowing experiences in this memoir.