Whitman Mission
Administrative History

Chapter Two:

50th Anniversary of the Whitman Massacre, 1897

Commemoration of the Whitmans began long before the 1916 establishment of the National Park Service. In 1859, only twelve years after the Whitman massacre, the Reverend Cushing Eells received a charter from the Washington Territorial Legislature for Whitman Seminary in honor of his colleague. The commemorative efforts by Dr. Whitman's friends and associates and later by concerned local citizens generated interest in the Whitmans that attracted the National Park Service to Walla Walla. Therefore, these early memorial efforts deserve recognition, as they laid the foundation for the present-day national historic site.

William H. Gray's Campaign

In addition to Reverend Eells, another of Whitman's colleagues attempted to commemorate him on the location of the mission grounds. William H. Gray, once the mission's carpenter but by 1874 the "zealous Corresponding Secretary" [1] of Astoria's Oregon Pioneer and Historical Society, began raising funds to improve the common grave of the massacre victims. Located near the mission site, the grave was simply a dirt mound surrounded by a picket fence. Gray was appalled by what he considered the neglect of "the graves of Christian and Patriotic dead" [2] and by 1882 procured lumber for a new fence. In 1885, under the direction of President A. J. Anderson of Whitman College, a picket fence was built around the graves, which, with little repair, lasted until 1897. [3]

Equally important to Gray, though more controversial, was the establishment of a monument "to commemorate the daring and unselfish deed of Dr. Whitman." [4] In 1874, the Oregon Pioneer and Historical Society appealed to "the people of Oregon" (and the people of Washington, Idaho, and Montana) to contribute to "the erection of an appropriate Monument to the memory of our lamented Dr. Whitman, who fell a martyr in defense of Truth and Justice . . . in 1847." [5] The Society organized a committee called the Monument Association, and under Gray's direction this association solicited contributions from Presbyterian and Congregational churches, newspapers, and citizens throughout the Northwest and Walla Walla. Initially, Gray estimated the shrine's cost between $20,000-$25,000 [6] given its elaborate design:

The idea is to include the names of fifteen persons, with a granite base five feet high; a man, with or without, his wife, a noble looking woman by his side, and with or without, thirteen other bodies represented as slain lying around them. The man is to stand as the central figure with a book in the left and the American flag in his right hand. [7]

Shortly thereafter, plans were scaled down to a simple Celtic cross [8] priced between $6,000-$8,000. [9] Though the Walla Walla Daily Statesman reported that Gray's plans met with the "hearty concurrence" [10] of the community, some felt Walla Walla was a better site for the Monument. [11] Others believed that the real monument to Marcus Whitman was Whitman College, the successor of the Whitman Seminary, and so would not support Gray's plans. [12]

A more serious setback occurred in 1880 when "[the Association] learned, after collecting . . . $417.30 that we had no land on which to erect the monument." [13] Fund raising slowed but did not stop while the Association tried to secure the needed acreage. Then, in 1881, Charles and Lucinda Swegle, owners of the mission property, gave to the Oregon Pioneer and Historical Society warranty deed to seven acres which included the grave site and hill on which to build the monument. [14] The Society agreed to the additional stipulation that they erect the monument within five years, by 1886. [15] Although the exact number of years Gray solicited funds is unclear, the Oregonian estimated he canvassed "with more or less vigor up to the time of his death." [16] By the time of Gray's death in 1889 [17] it is also unclear how much money the Monument Association raised, [18] although $800.00 is a common estimate.

While erecting a monument to Marcus Whitman was an Oregon Pioneer and Historical Society project, Gray was the impetus behind the entire movement. In fact, the Walla Walla Union noted that Gray's "chief aim in life appears to be to secure funds and erect a monument on the neglected grave of Dr. Marcus Whitman." [19] Although Gray failed to achieve his goal, he was instrumental in keeping the memory of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman alive. His commitment to memorialize the Whitmans at the site on which they had worked and died brought new attention to the mission grounds. The first step toward a monument had begun.

The Monument Association, 1897

Little was done to further Gray's efforts until 1896 when, according to W. S. Holt, "The neglected condition of the grave was brought to the attention of the Presbyterian Ministers' Association [of Portland] by one of its members." [20] Given the approaching 50th anniversary of the massacre, this neglect was intolerable to the Association. As a result, church members discussed holding a "suitable celebration at the half century mark of [the Whitmans'] death, and also to have erected the monument contemplated by Mr. Gray." [21] A committee formed, composed of members from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho and led by President H. W. Corbett, Treasurer William M. Ladd, and the managing committee, Curtis C. Strong, W. S. Holt, and George H. Himes, all of Portland. [22] Under their direction, the reactivated "Whitman Monument Association" [23] generated funds for a marble grave slab and memorial shaft.

In 1897, the Reverend E. N. Condit, Dr. A. K. Dice, Allen Reynolds, and W. S. Holt "called upon the owner of the land and told him of the project." [24] As a result, Marion W. Swegle donated the seven acres, previously owned by the Oregon Pioneer and Historical Society, to W. S. Holt, Levi Ankeny, and Allen Reynolds, Trustees of the Walla Walla Trust Foundation. [25] Since the Oregon Pioneer and Historical Society failed to erect the monument as stipulated in their 1881 agreement with Charles Swegle, the acreage presumably returned to the Swegles' possession, allowing Marion Swegle to re-donate the land eleven years later. (see map, Appendix A)

In August 1897, Holt, Strong, and Himes signed a contract with Walla Walla's Niles-Vinson marble works for "fences, mausoleum, and monument at the grave of Dr. Whitman" for $2,100.00. [26] Significantly, the contract stipulated that the Memorial Association was not liable for payment and that payment was due when the funds were raised by voluntary subscription. [27] The twenty-seven-foot-high granite shaft and marble grave marker, although completed by November 29, 1897 did not arrive from Vermont in time for the memorial observance. However, the 3000 people attending the semicentennial ceremonies heard speeches by Catherine Sager Pringle, a massacre survivor, and the Reverend J. R. Wilson, followed by a program at the Walla Walla opera house. [28] The grave marker and shaft were in place by January 1898, although a $1,1000.00 debt, more than half the original cost, still existed ten years later. [29] The Association failed to collect sufficient funds in 1897, yet the original contract left the members free from liability so the debt remained.

When the Presbyterian synod met in Walla Walla in 1907, Edwin Eells, Stephen B. L. Penrose, the Reverend James C. Reid of the First Presbyterian Church of Walla Walla, and the Reverend Austin Rice of the First Congregational Church of Walla Walla assumed responsibility to liquidate this "debt of honor." [30] They asked each denomination to raise $550.00 before the sixtieth anniversary of the massacre [31] although it is not clear whether they succeeded.

While the 1897 Whitman Memorial Association failed to fund the shaft and gravemarker, they succeeded in fulfilling William H. Gray's dream. Thus, the Memorial Association's greatest contribution was erecting the shaft and grave marker which, for the next forty years, remained the sole reminder of Waiilatpu's eleven-year existence.

Maintaining the Monument, 1900-1936

Care of the Whitman grave and memorial shaft fell to various local groups from 1900-1936. Unfortunately, this eight-acre site was neglected during the early 1900s in spite of an attempt by the Washington State Legislature to establish a Whitman Park Commission and purchase the mission property for a state park. [32] However, some development occurred. Marion Swegle donated one more acre of his property for the Whitman-Eells Memorial Church, built south of the Great Grave at the base of Shaft Hill. [33] (see map, Appendix A and B) The church remained at this location until approximately 1923 when it was moved to Milton-Freewater. [34] Another change occurred in 1914 when the bodies of William and Mary Gray were moved from Astoria and placed beside the Great Grave. [35]

With the exception of the Whitman-Eells Church and the additional grave marker, the site's appearance did not change greatly until a series of title transfers facilitated some noticeable grounds improvements. In 1923 the Walla Walla Trust Foundation, owners of the eight acres, and the Whitman-Eells Memorial Church (now defunct) transferred their holdings to the Union Trust Company as a perpetual trust to the public. [36] This company became the trustee for the Walla Walla Trust Foundation. Eventually, the Union Trust Company went through a series of mergers and became part of the First National Bank of Walla Walla and later the Seattle First National Bank, Walla Walla Branch. [37] About this time, the Walla Walla Kiwanis Club became interested in the mission after John Langdon, a local businessman and Kiwanian, suggested beautifying the monument grounds. Predictably, a committee formed to manage the project. Phillip Winans, Henry Marshall, and Chase Lambert organized the "Whitman Monument Committee," and in 1923 the Kiwanis Club assumed responsibility for maintaining the grounds. Since their ability to improve the grounds depended upon an unclouded land claim, Winans and Herbert Ringhoffer took the necessary legal action to clear title to the entire mission claim which totaled 646.89 acres. Representative John Summers introduced the bill into the U. S. Congress and on June 21, 1926 Congress issued a patent for Donation Claim No. 37 and No. 38--the Whitman Mission--to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the group which had sponsored the Whitmans in their missionary efforts. The A.B.C.F.M. deeded the land to the then owners (the Swegles), clearing the title. In this action, approximately eight acres composing the land held as a public trust by the Union Trust Company was held out as a public park. [38]

The legal issues settled, the Kiwanis established an endowment fund for grounds improvement: "[the Kiwanis] believe pioneers of the valley and the state will be glad to contribute to an endowment fund so the [monument] grounds may be kept beautiful for all time." [39] True to their plans, the Kiwanis designated the area "Whitman Memorial Park," built an entrance sign, and improved the road to the grave and monument. They are also credited with building four pit privies that were located on the mission grounds from the mid-1930s until 1963. Mr. Howard Kaseberg, a Kiwanis member in the 1930s, remembers spending his weekends cleaning the grounds and planting shrubbery. To him it seemed "a natural project." [40] The Kiwanis were joined in their landscaping efforts by the Daughters of the American Revolution who, in 1931, designated the Whitman Monument grounds as the most historic spot in the Pacific Northwest." [41] After 1935, when the Whitman Centennial, Incorporated, formed, in part, "to assist in the care of the Whitman Monument," [42] Kiwanis involvement faded, although they continued to care for the grounds until 1939. [43]

Whitman Mission was designated "Whitman Memorial Park" by the Kiwanis during the 1920s and 1930s.

The Kiwanis were responsible for maintaining and improving the grounds during the 1920s and 1930s. Their work generated interest in the mission which had otherwise declined since the semicentennial years. After 1935, it became the responsibility of the Whitman Centennial, Inc., and the National Park Service to improve upon their efforts.


Last Updated: 02-Feb-2000