You Have Died of Dysentery:

The Making of the Oregon Trail


At the top of my list of people to acknowledge are my three MECC colleagues – Shirley Keran, John Krenz, and Charolyn Kapplinger – who together with me formed the core team for the creation of the 1985 Apple II version of The Oregon Trail. All four of us were on the project team from the beginning to the end – nearly a year – and we all poured a lot of effort into the product. The collaborative contributions of Shirley, John, and Charolyn all had a huge impact on what became the most famous educational software product of the 1980s – and by some measures the most famous educational software product of all time. I am honored to have worked with these creative colleagues throughout the project.

At various stages in the project, the team also included four other key members whose contributions were essential to the product – Bill Way, Roger Shimada, Bob Granvin, and Steve Splinter. I greatly appreciate the ideas and the hard work contributed by each of these colleagues. I am especially grateful for Bill’s invention of the most famous Oregon Trail meme – the animation of an ox pulling a covered wagon – which become the central component of the main screen of the game.

I would also like to acknowledge the two members of MECC’s management team – Kent Kehrberg and Craig Copley – who entrusted MECC’s most important asset to me. They gave me the freedom to reinvent and rebuild the product from the ground up, trusting that I would do it right. They did not flinch when I threw out half of the features of the original OREGON and created a new product in which 90% of the features were completely new. I am happy to have rewarded their trust with a product that met or exceeded all expectations (except that I ran over budget!).

And of course, I want to acknowledge and thank Don Rawitsch who, with his colleagues Paul Dillenberger and Bill Heinemann, invented the original text-only timeshare version of OREGON back in 1971. Furthermore, Don’s work in 1975, when he refined the game and made it available on MECC’s timeshare system, was perhaps the most important milestone in the entire history of the game.

As for the creation of this book, my principal acknowledgement goes to my daughter Nicole Bouchard. Without her encouragement and assistance, this book would never have been completed. When I completed Draft 1, I was so disappointed in it that I put it aside for a year. Nicole encouraged me to try again, and helped me brainstorm a different way of approaching the content. So I completely rewrote the book, resulting in Draft 2. This draft was much better, but still not good enough. After studying this second version of the book, Nicole proposed another shift in focus, and even prepared a complete new outline to provide me with some inspiration. Using her outline as my starting point, I completely rewrote the book one more time – and then I finally felt that the book was good enough for editing and publication.

I would very much like to thank all of the other people who have encouraged me or read drafts of the book. In particular, I would like to thank Marsha Rooks, the very first person to read Draft 3, whose encouragement and helpful suggestions have been highly appreciated.

And finally, I would like to heartily thank all my colleagues during the past 30+ years who were genuinely excited to work with me. Several of these people expressed pride to be working with the person who had led the design of the best-known version of The Oregon Trail. Dear friends – your enthusiasm has always meant a lot to me!

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