• bible sitting next to a teapot

    Whitman Mission

    National Historic Site Washington

A Brief Respite

By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
February 2009

The missionary group arrived at Fort Vancouver on September 12, 1836. It had been 4 ½ months since the Whitmans, Spaldings and Mr. Gray had left Liberty, Missouri. It had been even longer since they had left their homes. The missionaries had reached the Oregon Country and their new lives stretched before them. But first, a short rest.

Narcissa wrote letters to her family that described their stay at Fort Vancouver. One can almost hear the delight in Narcissa’s voice as she reports back to her mother:

“After chatting a little we were invited to a walk in the garden. And what a delightful place this. What a contrast this to the barren sand plains through which we had so recently passed. Here we find fruit of every discription. Appleas peaches grapes. Pear plum & Fig trees in abundance. Cucumbers melons beans peas beats cabbage, taumatoes, & every kind of vegitable, to numerous to be mentioned.”

Narcissa wrote extensively about the food:

“There is such a variety I know not where to begin. For breakfast we have coffe or coaco, Salt Salmon & roast duck, wild & potatoes.”

“For dinner we have a greater variety. First we are always treated to a dish of soup, which is very good...After our soup dishes are removed, then comes a variety of meats, to prove our tastes. After selecting & tasting, changes plates & try another if we choose, so at ever new dish, have a clean plate. Roast duck is an every day dish, boiled pork, tripe, & sometimes trotters, fresh Salmon or Sturgeon, yea to numerous to mention...A rice pudding or an apple pie is next introduced. After this melons next make their appearance, some times grapes & last of all cheese, bread or biscuit & butter is produced to complet the whole.”

However, not every dish was as enthusiastically received:

“I thot I would tell what kind of a dish we had set before us this morning. It is called black pudding. It is not a favourite dish with us Americans. It goes from the table untouched. It is made of blood & the fat of hogs, well spiced & filled into a gut.”

Narcissa was very pleased with her stay:

“I think every time I look into the glass if Mother could see me now she would not think my cheek bones were very promenant. We have every comfort we can ask for here, enough to eat & drink & are as well provided for as we should be in many boarding houses in the States”

But the missionaries could only rest for a short time. They still had a mission to build and winter would arrive shortly. The women stayed at the fort while the men left to start building their new homes.

 
 

Sources

Drury, Clifford M. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. 1994. Northwest Interpretive Association: Seattle, Washington.

Whitman, Narcissa. Letter to Narcissa's mother. Started July 18, 1836. From My Journal, Narcissa Whitman. 1982. Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, Washington.

Did You Know?

painting of mission with wagon in front

The Whitmans’ mission was important to early Oregon Trail travelers. Those who were sick, tired, or hungry or who needed a wagon fixed would make the side trip to the mission. Some would spend the winter with the Whitmans before continuing on to the Willamette Valley.