• bible sitting next to a teapot

    Whitman Mission

    National Historic Site Washington

Beginnings and Endings

By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
March 2009

On her 29th birthday (March 14, 1837), Narcissa Whitman gave birth to a daughter, Alice Clarissa. The Whitmans were missionaries to the Cayuse people, who loved little Alice Clarissa. Narcissa wrote to her mother:

“The Little Stranger is visited daily by the Chiefs & principal men in camp & the women throng the house continually waiting an opportunity to see her…Tee-low-kike, a kind friendly Indian called to see her the next day after she was born; Said she was a Cayuse Te-mi (Cayuse girl) because she was born on Cayuse wai-tis (Cayuse land)…The whole tribe are highly pleased because we allow her to be called a Cayuse Girl.”

Narcissa’s missionary colleague, Eliza Spalding was also expecting. A few months later, on November 7th, the whole family, 8 month old Alice Clarissa included, left for the Spaldings’ mission at Lapwai [near today’s Spalding, Idaho]. It took several days of traveling in rain, wind, and a touch of snow. Narcissa rode sidesaddle carrying the baby. On November 11th they reached the Snake River:

“We rode all day in the wind and rain and came to the Snake river about the middle of the afternoon…when the sun went down it found me sitting by the root of a large tree on stones with my babe in my arms, watching by moonlight the movements in crossing our baggage and horses… Soon I was seated in a canoe with my babe and landed across safely. At a little distance from the shore we found lodges and were supplied by them with fire-wood and lodge poles. Just before reaching this place we received a line from Mr. Spalding wishing us to make all possible speed.”

They reached the Spaldings’ mission the next day. Narcissa and Eliza hadn’t seen each other for a year. A few days later, on November 15th, Eliza Spalding gave birth to a daughter, who was named Eliza after her mother. Narcissa described Alice Clarissa’s reaction:

“when the little Eliza was born it appeared for a time as if she would devour her in her eager grasp with her hands and her mouth in her great joy to welcome her.”

Eventually the Whitmans had to return to their mission. On December 2nd they said their goodbyes and stepped into a canoe. Narcissa explained: “thought this would be a more comfortable way than to go over the hills on horseback.”

And this is where we will leave them, with two new babies and their futures bright before them.

 

This is the last installment of "A Missionary Saga" for 2009. See complete season one list.

Next: The Whitmans Return

 

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 December 5, 1836. Included in "The Coming of the White Women, 1836" (Part IV). T. C. Elliott. In the Oregon Historical Quarterly: vol. XXXVIII, number 1, pg. 46. March, 1937. Statesman Publishing Co., Salem, Oregon.

Whitman, Narcissa. Letter to Narcissa's parents. March 14, 1838. Included in the Transactions of the Nineteenth Annual Reunion of the Oregon Pioneer Association for 1891. 1892. Geo. H. Himes and Company, Printers. Portland, Oregon.

Did You Know?

picture of tule lodge

The tule lodge offers a comfortable place for the people inside. The structure is held up by wooden poles and covered with mats made of tule. Tules are a type of sedge; they grow in marshy areas; and are also called "bullrushes." Tules are stronger than they look. A tule lodge can withstand rain and wind.