Whitman Mission
Administrative History

Chapter Five:

Management of the cultural and natural resources is an important administrative responsibility. The 1986 "Resource Management Plan and Environmental Assessment" lists Whitman Mission National Historic Site's most significant cultural and natural resources:

  1. The historic ground itself, the site of the Mission is a National Register property with many artifacts in situ.

  2. The restored Mill Pond and a portion of the original irrigation system, the Great Grave, the Memorial Shaft on the hill, and the section of the Oregon Trail are on the List of Classified Structures.

  3. The re-established orchard, the river Oxbow, the cemetery used by the Indians, pioneers and emigrants, and the Alice Clarissa Memorial are within the boundaries.

  4. Over 10,000 irreplaceable artifacts are in the study collection and all are direct touchstones with our enabling legislation.

  5. Several thousand historic and modern photographs, along with Park library and archival files, make up the most complete records of the site's history.

  6. The Shaft Hill provides a surrounding view of uncluttered landscape. Rolling eastward up to the Blue Mountains, the Walla Walla Valley has many visual characteristics unchanged from the time of the Whitmans. [1]

This chapter addresses administration's role in preserving these cultural and natural resources. The first section covers cultural resource management plus archeology, because archeological discoveries influenced the ways in which superintendents managed these resources; the second section covers natural resource management.


In the park's early years, active management of the resources occurred rather sporadically when the superintendent perceived a need. Then, in 1982, increased attention to cultural resources occurred service-wide due to Director Dickenson's commitment that all parks have high quality resource management plans. [2] Completed in October 1982, and updated each year, Whitman Mission's "Resource Management Plan" currently provides the most specific instructions and direction for cultural resource management. The following section outlines some of the cultural resource problems facing management since 1940 and examines the varied methods used to solve those problems. This overview begins by discussing the important role archeological discoveries played in assisting cultural resource management.

Two separate archeological excavations occurred at Whitman Mission National Historic Site. The first, briefly outlined in chapter four, was conducted by Thomas R. Garth between 1941-1950. The second, directed by Paul J. F. Schumacher, was conducted from 1960-1961. An explanation of the reasons for each excavation, their results, and their impact on the cultural resources follows, beginning with the 1941-1950 excavation.

Tom Garth (second from left) and crew excavate the mission house in 1941.

Archeology: 1941-1950

The 1941-1950 excavation was the first development project completed at the Whitman National Monument. In 1938 Olaf T. Hagen, Regional Supervisor of Historic Sites, explained that excavating the mission site was top priority in order to ensure "that new development would not intrude on parts of the historic area." [3] Excavation was also required before serious consideration could be given to the idea of reconstructing the mission buildings. Therefore, custodian-archeologist Tom Garth excavated the mission site from 1941-1950; because of World War II the bulk of work was accomplished from 1947-1948. When the project neared completion in 1950, the first house, mission house, emigrant house, gristmill, and blacksmith shop had been examined, although very little evidence of the blacksmith shop was discovered. More than 2,000 artifacts were unearthed and preserved from these excavations, including medical supplies, china sherds, and metal fragments. While complete findings of these excavations are recorded in Garth's final reports, [4] the excavations exposed the mission building foundations revealing building materials and methods of support, [5] and in many cases verified eye-witness descriptions of the site. [6] In addition, Garth uncovered evidence of the site's occupation by the Oregon Volunteers in 1848, adding to understanding of this post-mission period. [7]

The archeological excavations precipitated the completion of much needed research on Whitman Mission's appearance. In 1938, Regional Supervisor of Historic Sites Hagen emphasized "it is important that any excavation be preceded by exhaustive research on the location and description of all later buildings erected on the site as well as those of the early mission." [8] Thus, due to the impending excavation, the research void was quickly filled. George Tays of the Historic Sites Project-Whitman Mission's first historian--wrote a study on the mission site's appearance, and "The Whitman Mission Gristmills" was authored by William H. Gardner with notes by Hagen. In 1941, Archeologist Garth finished his study of Pacific Northwest architecture, which placed the Whitman Mission in the perspective of architecture during that time.

The effects of this research on the excavation were immediate. In reference to Garth's 1948 "Preliminary Report on Excavations in the Ruins of the Whitman Mission," Hillory A. Tolson, Acting Director of the National Park Service, remarked: "The report is noteworthy for the excellent way in which the historical data is integrated with the archeological evidence found in the ground." [9]

Chief Historian Herbert E. Kahler acknowledged Garth's 1949 work, "A Report on the Second Season's Excavations at Waiilatpu": "This report admirably illustrates the usefulness in employing archeological research methods to aid and supplement historical research methods." [10]

Finally, in response to "The Mansion House, Gristmill and Blacksmith Shop at the Whitman Mission, A Final Report," Chief Historian Kahler remarked, "We believe this to be a most important document, contributing much to our knowledge of the Whitman Mission structures." [11] Thus, research completed from 1940-1947 contributed to a more accurate interpretation of the archeological ruins.

The 1941-1950 excavation was the first attempt to verify historical information about the Whitman Mission. Combined with historical research, the excavations provided the basis for cultural resource management of the mission site from 1952-1962. The building sites were outlined and conjectural drawings were posted based on the evidence discovered by Archeologist Garth. As a result, the blacksmith shop was interpreted as a wooden, semicircular building until additional research proved this description incorrect. After Garth uncovered well-preserved adobe walls of the first house, they were displayed as an important cultural resource from 1954-1978. Although additional information gleaned from the 1960 excavations further improved cultural resource management, the first guide was and still is the excavation of 1941-1950.

Excavation of Blacksmith's Shop, supervised by Paul Schumacher,
proceeds in 1960.

Archeology: 1960-1961

The second and final excavation at Whitman Mission National Historic Site, the 1960-1961 dig, solved a few more of the mission's mysteries and further improved the park's cultural resource management. The goals: discover the blacksmith shop and the grave of Alice Clarissa Whitman--the Whitmans' only daughter.

In 1959, the blacksmith shop excavation was added to the Mission 66 development projects. Superintendent Kennedy justified the exploratory work:

Recent information indicates that what is presently marked as the site, together with size and shape, of the Whitman Blacksmith Shop, is very likely not accurate inasmuch as the descriptions found are at variance with those now portrayed. It is desireable to carry out new archeological exploratory work to establish the facts about the blacksmith shop and thus assure that its interpretation has a foundation in fact. [12]

More simply put, Tom Garth's interpretation of a wooden blacksmith shop was proved incorrect after the 1954 discovery of William H. Gray's 1842 description of its adobe construction. [13] In light of this new discovery, further excavations were necessary to determine the building's location and dimensions. Any attempt to reconstruct the mission buildings would depend on accurate information.

Evidence for locating the blacksmith shop looked promising after Regional Archeologist Paul J. F. Schumacher excavated in October 1960. [14] Encouraged by the first dig, another search for the blacksmith shop proceeded from July-August 1961. [15] Although the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin reported in August 1961 that, "Archeologists have unearthed several pieces of material . . . that they believe is the remains of the blacksmith shop," [16] Erwin Thompson's 1973 "Feasibility Study on Historic Reconstruction" concluded that Schumacher "failed to locate any definite outline of the structure." [17] Despite this lack of conclusive evidence, Schumacher's excavation revealed enough information to at least warrant replacing the blacksmith shop's semicircular outline with a square outline. The 1962 "Annual Report on Information and Interpretive Services" reported that "the marker for the shop points out that the exact location of the building has not yet been determined." [18] Later this qualifier was dropped and the site simply interpreted as the blacksmith shop. As a result, the method of marking the shop's approximate location with concrete blocks continues today.

A search for Alice Clarrisa Whitman's grave was conducted at the same time. Superintendent Kennedy explained the need for this project in 1959:

Research has indicated that it may well be in one of two locations, both of which are situated in places which may be occupied by roads or trails in the proposed development of the Monument. In order to locate the remains so that they may be safeguarded . . . and properly marked, the explorations are necessary. [19]

Although the impending road and trail construction facilitated the excavation, interest in locating Alice Clarissa's grave existed long before 1959. Tom Garth reportedly discovered a child's grave in 1948 but could not prove it was Alice Clarissa's. [20] In 1953, a member of the Whitman family requested a marker in her memory. [21] Whitman Mission Historian Jack Farr concluded in 1958 that historical references to the grave indicated its probable location either north of the mission house near the old county road, area "from the fence separating the Monument property and the Frazier to the road on the west side of Shaft Hill about fifty yards southeast of the Great Grave." [22] When the October 1960 excavation failed to find the grave in the vicinity marked for construction, the road project proceeded without further delay. While Archeologist Schumacher did not find where the grave was, at least he determined where it was not.

Schumacher made one final effort to locate the grave in 1961. Acting under the assumption that the mission cemetery was near the base of Shaft Hill, Schumacher excavated along the base of the hill, near the Great Grave. [23] Schumacher hoped that the discovery of a skeleton within a coffin "about half way to the Great Grave from the entry road into the Monument" [24] would indicate the location of the child's grave. However, the skeleton--that of an Indian--helped locate the Indian burial grounds rather than Alice Clarissa's remains. [25]

In spite of the failure to locate the child's grave, in 1966 Mrs. Goldie Rehberg, honorary member of the Board of Trustees, Marcus Whitman Foundation, initiated a project to erect a marker to Alice Clarissa Whitman. [26] The movement gained widespread community support, so in 1966 and 1967 Schumacher returned to the mission to discuss the location for a marker in her memory. [27] On May 8, 1968, the Marcus Whitman Foundation dedicated a marker to the Whitman's only daughter [28] near the location of Schumacher's 1961 discovery of the Indian grave--approximately half way between the Great Grave and the Park's east entrance. Later that year, Park Ranger Larry Dodd discovered a letter-to-the-editor written in 1888 by massacre survivor Matilda Sager. The letter places the location of Alice Clarissa's grave next to the common burial site "where the parents and their only child would lie side by side . . . " [29] Superintendent Stickler said that the location revealed in this letter would be marked, [30] although it never was. Regional Archeologist Schumacher said that the 1888 letter:

Certainly supports my contention that they would have buried the massacre victims near the already existing Mission cemetery and therefore, Alice Clarissa's grave is in the hillside at the base of the slope, more or less where Superintendent Stickler and I marked it. [31]

In fact, if Matilda Sager's description is accurate, then Alice Clarissa's grave is probably closer to the Great Grave than marked. [32] Superintendent Amdor wrote in the 1982 "Resource Management Plan" that, "it remains questionable if the spot along the west end of the Shaft Hill is the most fitting for such a marker." [33] Nevertheless, the archeological excavations gave Superintendent Stickler and Regional Archeologist Schumacher some indication of where the grave might logically have been as well as revealing where it was not. Management has not found it necessary to move the stone, so the Alice Clarissa Memorial remains today as it did in 1968.

While the 1960-1961 excavations did not provide as much new information as hoped, they provided enough information for administrators to proceed with some very important cultural resource decisions. Superintendent Kennedy approved the new blacksmith shop markings, and Superintendent Stickler approved Alice Clarissa's grave marker. In addition, Schumacher's brief excavation of the Oregon Trail and Whitman's original irrigation ditch in 1961 assured their restoration: the irrigation ditch in 1961 and the Oregon Trail in 1963. The location of the park's new approach road and trails also depended on the archeological finds, as did the reconstruction issue. Further, Historian Erwin Thompson researched the blacksmith shop history and the graves at Waiilatpu in order to assist Schumacher's work, just as preliminary research of the mission buildings helped Tom Garth. The excavations of 1960-1961 stimulated research, cultural resource management, and interpretation and ultimately contributed to a more accurate representation of the Whitmans' mission.

NEXT> CHAPTER 5 (continued)

Last Updated: 02-Feb-2000