During the first ten or fifteen years of the nineteenth century, the US was swept by religious revivalism and many people were converted in the wake of the newly born religious fervor. The Second Great Awakening spread from its origins in Connecticut and led to the establishment of theological seminaries and mission boards.
In the fall of 1819, the brig Thaddeus was chartered to carry the Pioneer Company of missionaries to the Islands. There were seven American couples sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) to convert the Hawaiians to Christianity.
Over the course of a little over 40-years (1820-1863 – the “Missionary Period,”) about 180-men and women in twelve Companies served in Hawaiʻi to carry out the mission of the ABCFM in the Hawaiian Islands.
Since work with any non-English speaking people in the US was classified as being foreign missions by most Protestant denominations throughout the nineteenth century, the ABCFM also looked to missions for the American Indians. The Board began its Indian work in 1816, when a few missionaries were sent to the Cherokee.
Then, on January 12, 1835, “…one of our elders expects shortly to leave us to join the company of Missionaries to go beyond the Rocky Mountains.” (Hotchkin, Report to American Home Missionary Society) Dr Marcus Whitman had volunteered to go.
Upon return from a short investigative trip, Whitman had observed that it was possible to take women over the Rockies, hence he could return, be married to Narcissa Prentiss to whom he was engaged, and take her with him to Oregon.
Marcus hoped to find another couple to join them in their Oregon venture. He heard of Henry and Eliza Spalding who were to be missionaries among the Osage people; they had already started for their destination, but Marcus caught up to them and convinced them to join the Oregon missions.
The Whitmans and Spaldings formed the forerunners of the ABCFM’s missionary effort in the Pacific Northwest. In April 1836 Whitman’s party set out from Liberty, Missouri. In May they overtook an American Fur Company caravan near the junction of the Platte River and the Loup Fork, in Nebraska.
Traveling via Fort Laramie, Wyoming, and across South Pass, they arrived at the Green River Rendezvous in July. Escorted by two Hudson’s Bay Company traders, the party then set out on a long journey via Fort Hall to Fort Vancouver, where it arrived in September. (LegendsOfAmerica)
Whitman chose a spot in southeastern Washington on Mill Creek on the north bank of the Walla Walla River, 22-miles above its junction with the Columbia and the Hudson’s Bay Company post of Fort Walla Walla. The local Indians, the Cayuse, called the spot Waiilatpu (“Place of the Rye Grass.”) Spalding chose a site 110-miles farther east, where he founded among the Nez Perce Indians what came to be known as the Spalding Mission, Idaho. (LegendsOfAmerica)
The two wives were the first US women to travel across the continent. The next March, Mrs. Whitman gave birth to a daughter, Alice Clarissa, the first US child born in the Pacific Northwest. (Two years later the child died in a tragic drowning accident.)
Several Hawaiians lived at the Whitman Mission; a Hawaiian known as “Jack” and another Hawaiian whose name is unknown worked for a fur-trading company called the North West Company and helped Whitman establish the Waiilatpu mission; first they helped to build the Whitman’s home.
When Narcissa first saw it, she wrote home to her parents, “Where are we now, and who are we that we should be thus blessed of the Lord? I can scarcely realize that we are thus comfortably fixed, and keeping house …”
“We arrived here on the tenth-distance, twenty-five miles from Walla Walla. Found a house reared and the lean-to enclosed, a good chimney and fireplace, and the floor laid. … My heart truly leaped for joy as I alighted from my horse, entered and seated myself before a pleasant fire.” (PBS)
In addition, the Whitmans knew an individual named Mungo Mevway; he was the son of a Hawaiian father and a Native American mother. (Mevway married a member of the Spokane tribe around October 1842.)
Iosepa Mahi and his wife, Maria Kewau Mahi, were two later arrivals from Hawaiʻi. “At Waiilatpu they had the pleasure of being waited on by two native Hawaiians, Iosepa Mahi and wife, from Mr. Bingham’s Kawaiahaʻo Church, who had come to Oregon the year previous to assist Dr and Mrs Whitman in their domestic concerns.” (Edwin Hall Journal, 1839)
The Mahis were two of the charter members of the original Oregon Mission Church, being admitted by letter from the Kawaiahaʻo Church at its organization on August 18, 1838.
When Mahi died, Mrs. Whitman wrote of him in a letter to her mother on October 9, 1840, “Our loss is very great. He was so faithful and kind – always ready to relieve us of every care, so that we might give ourselves to our appropriate missionary work – increasingly so to the last. He died as a faithful Christian missionary dies – happy to die in the field – rejoiced that he was permitted to come and labour for the good of the Indians …” (His wife returned to Hawaiʻi in January 1842.)
There are more ties to Hawaiʻi beyond the help given to build the mission. After the Oregon missionaries had found that their earliest ideas of instructing the Indians in the Gospel by teaching them English, without reducing their own language to writing,
were not only impracticable but absolutely impossible, they wrote to their brethren of the Sandwich Islands mission asking if it were not possible to have a second-hand printing press given to them. (The Friend, May 1923)
On April 19, 1839, Hiram Bingham, head of the Hawaiʻi mission wrote, “The church & congregation of which I am pastor has recently sent a small but complete printing and binding establishment by the hand of Brother Hall, to the Oregon mission, which with other substantial supplies amount to 444,00 doll.” (This is not the same press that Bingham brought on their initial voyage to Hawaiʻi.)
“The press was a small hand press presented to this mission but not in use. The expense of the press with one small font of type, was defrayed by about 50 native females including Kīnaʻu or Kaʻahumanu 2d. This was a very pleasing act of Charity. She gave 10 doll. for herself & 4 for her little daughter Victoria Kaʻahumanu 3d.” (Bingham) (The press remained at Lapwai until 1846, when it was sought to be used for printing a paper in Salem.)
“The Press was located at Lapwai, and used to print portions of Scripture and hymn books in the Nez Perces language, which books were used in all the Missions of the American Board. Visitors to these tribes of Indians, twenty-five years after the Missions had been broken up, and the Indians had been dispersed, found copies of those books still in use and prized as great treasures.” (Nixon)
The Whitmans at Waiilatpu and the Spaldings at Lapwai carried on their work in their separate stations for about two years with but little outside help beyond that of a few Hawaiians and an occasional wandering mountain man. (Drury)
The Cayuse were a semi-nomadic people who were on a seasonal cycle of hunting, gathering and fishing. Whitman introduced agriculture in order to keep the Cayuse at the mission and introduce Christianity.
They needed to be self-sufficient and spent a lot of time growing crops and looking after farm animals. These animals included a flock of sheep that were sent to Waiilatpu by some of the ABCFM missionaries in Hawaiʻi (Maki and his wife accompanied these sheep on their long journey to the Whitman Mission.)
In 1843, Whitman accompanied the first major overland immigration from the US to Oregon, successfully guiding the first immigrant wagons to reach the Columbia River; the mission at Waiilatpu was a major stop on the immigrant trail. Their small expedition was the first to bring families to Oregon by wagon.
In 1847, one of those emigrant wagon trains brought measles to the mission. The white children recovered, but the local Cayuse tribe had no resistance. Half the tribe died.
Marcus was considered to be a te-wat, or medicine man, to the Cayuse people. His medicines did not work when trying to cure Cayuse infected with measles. It was Cayuse tradition that if the patient died after being treated by the medicine man, the family of the patient had the right to kill the medicine man.
On November 29, 1847, eleven Cayuse took part in what is now called the “Whitman Killings” and “Whitman Massacre.” The majority of the tribe was not involved in the deaths of the Whitmans and the eleven others, however, the whole tribe was held responsible until 1850. In that year, five Cayuse were turned over to the authorities in Oregon City and hanged for the crime of killing the Whitmans.
The story of the Whitman mission came to an end, however, the legacy of Dr Whitman lived on. Stories of his 1842 ride east to stop the ABCFM from closing some of the Oregon missions became a legend that “Whitman saved Oregon for the Americans”, making it seem that Whitman promoted a manifest destiny for America.
Cushing Eells, an associate of Whitman, built Whitman Seminary on the grounds of the old mission; it later moved to Walla Walla and became Whitman College. A statue of Dr. Whitman was erected in Statuary Hall in Washington DC. (My mother, a Hiram Bingham descendant, attended Whitman College.) (Lots of information here from NPS)
The image shows the Whitman Mission. In addition, I have added other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.