In Sándor’s Oregon Trail, one adventurer follows the journey of half a million lifetimes across the Old West before it was old to America. For Native people, it was the only home they had ever known, hunting its prairies and fishing its rivers long before there ever was an Oregon Trail.
Long before school children of the 1980s and 1990s squealed with delight every time they died of dysentery on the Apple Computer green screen video game, hundreds of thousands of Americans and foreign immigrants traveled thousands of miles, leaving the United States in Missouri and traveling across the lands President Jefferson acquired in the Louisiana Purchase from France when Napoleon Bonaparte was strapped for cash. They traveled in wool and linen clothing with no Gore-Tex, sunscreen, or Instagram, to a place they’d never seen a photo of. They may as well have been going to the moon.
Early promoters advised travelers that in Oregon it only ever rained at night, wild hogs roamed the sunny fields fully cooked so all you had to do was slice off the tender meat, and you could not bait your hook near the river or fish would jump out to catch themselves on it. They said in California, if you wanted to become rich, you had only to coat your naked body in oil, roll down a hill, and gold dust would stick to you. Mormon pioneers also followed the Oregon trail from Iowa to their promised land in the Salt Lake Valley.
Early emigrants promised Native Americans they would take no more room than the width of their wagon wheels, and many early encounters were mutually beneficial opportunities for trade. Despite what the movies tell you, historian John D. Unruh counts a total of only 362 emigrants killed by Indians from 1840 from 1860 in his book The Plains Across. During the same period, Unruh counts 426 Indians killed by white settlers. Sándor’s Oregon Trail will cover lesser-known aspects of history such as the largest massacre in the history of the American West, of hundreds of Shoshone Indians at the Bear River Massacre in Idaho; and the largest massacre of whites, when every grown man and woman in the Baker-Francher Wagon Train was murdered in Mountain Meadows, Utah by the Mormon Utah Territorial Militia – some of whom were disguised as Southern Paiute Indians whom they enticed to also participate.
In the show and book, Sándor Lau walks every inch of the journey, learning and experiencing history from reenactors and Native Americans continuing their cultures and traditions. This living history documentary explores the land and wildlife that witnessed these extraordinary events.
Turtle Island (North America) was the home of native people long before the Bostons (as many tribes referred to them) crossed the Big Muddy (Missouri) River to come to their lands. Native people have survived attempted genocide and continue living their culture and traditions as one of their greatest sources of strength. Emigrants’ biggest contemporary complaints against natives were not attacks but theft of goods and livestock. Among many tribes, stealing horses was an honorable way to gain glory and wealth. If the horses were so important to the former owners, they should have cared for them better. Just as emigrants believed they were entitled to land occupied by native people if it was not plotted and cultivated.
Sándor’s Oregon Trail is a show about fun, and history and tradition. Instead of just talking about traditions, native people will show them. Along the journey, Sándor learns how to shoot traditional bow and arrow, make fire, catch salmon, sing paddling songs, ride bareback, put up a teepee, and prepare first foods. Around the campfire, Sándor also learns how coyote’s folly made ridgelines the best places to find arrowheads and other great yarns spun by master storytellers.
This work is inspired by films like The West by Stephen Ives, the Paramount Network’s Yellowstone, TNT’s Into the West, and the A&E show Longmire. Books informing the show include Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Lakota author Joseph Marshall’s On Behalf of the Wolf and the First Peoples and The Lakota Way, John Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks and Eagle Voice Remembers, Will Bagley’s So Rugged and Mountainous, John D. Unruh’s The Plains Across, and Kent Nerburn’s Neither Wolf nor Dog.
The target audience is the US and global fan base inspired by the land, people, and history of the American West, aficionados of one of the most enduring genres of film, literature, and art. A large critical mass of audience will be US viewers who grew up playing the Oregon Trail video game in the 1980s and ’90s. Audiences will also include armchair adventurers who loved shows like Man vs. Wild, Survivorman, and Dual Survival, and films like 127 Hours, Everest, Wild, Into the Wild, and Free Solo.
We are looking for the right broadcaster, publisher, on-camera subjects, and patrons to make this vision real.