• bible sitting next to a teapot

    Whitman Mission

    National Historic Site Washington

First the Good News

By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
March 2011

On April 8th, 1845, Dr. Whitman sat down to write. He had much to report to the board that supported his mission in the Oregon Country, where he and his wife worked with the Cayuse Indians. Let's start with the good news.

The Whitmans now had a sawmill. It was located about 20 miles east of the mission up in the Blue Mountains. Dr. Whitman saw many uses for the boards that would be produced. The sawmill was made possible through the hard work of many individuals. Several emigrant families had spent that winter with the Whitmans before continuing on to the Willamette Valley. Many repaid the Whitmans with either livestock or by doing chores. Dr. Whitman reported:

"– I took some ten or twelve oxen also by way of exchange. And partly in order to give employment to those who wintered with us, but more from the necessity of having boards and timber for the use of the Station and supply the Indians – last but not least to prepare fencing for ourselves & the Indians, I have been building a Saw mill – which is now in a state of forwardness & which I hope to start soon after planting is over – I have mostly paid for the work as I went along in provisions."

The Whitmans had expanded their family by taking in seven children who had lost their parents while coming west:

"These last we took into our own family & have them yet and shall be likely to keep them. The two oldest are boys the eldest fourteen – The others are girls – the youngest was only five months old when she arrived and much emaciated – and sick – but with all the others is now healthy and strong."

Dr. Whitman wrote that he was pleased with the progress in agriculture that the Cayuse were making:

"A vast change has already been wrought among them [the Cayuse] There are but few who have not cattle – a number have sheep & nearly all have plantations, more or less"

In fact, the Cayuse needed more plows:

"Ploughs are in great demand – I have sold even my last cast plough from the States – as they are the ones prefered by the Indians. Will you please send the castings without wood – for twenty five ploughs of a small and middle size pattern – and the same number next year or if more convenient fifty at once as I have no doubt all will be taken in one year. A horse is given for a plough and the horses are sold for from ten to fifteen dollars to meet expences."

Some of the Emigrants even worked for the Cayuse:

"Some of the Indians are hiring land broken for them by those who are here still – which is done at the rate of from three to five acres for an inferior horse."

Progress was also being made on the religious front. The missionaries had translated the Gospel of Matthew into Nez Perce, a language spoken by the Cayuse:

"We hired a Printer the past winter to print the translation of Mathew and also a small book in native& English in order to try the effect of teaching English."

But not all was going well. In that very same letter, Dr. Whitman mentioned several issues of concern that would eventually contribute to the tragic end of the mission.

This is part 34 of "A Missionary Saga." More from Season 3

Next: Now the Bad News

 

Sources

Whitman, Dr. Marcus. April 8, 1845. Letter to Rev. David Greene, Corresponding Secretary for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). Whitman Mission Collection.

Did You Know?

picture of Great Basin Wild Rye Grass

Great Basin Wild Rye Grass is part of the natural landscape at Whitman Mission. The name Waiilatpu, meaning place of rye grass, was used by the people to name the mission site.