Hostility of the Men of the Caravan
(Excerpted from Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon by Clifford M. Drury.)
The caravan had hardly started before Whitman became aware that the rough and ungodly men of Fontenelle’s company did not appreciate the presence of missionaries and emphatically expressed their displeasure. Whitman wrote: “Very evident tokens gave us to understand that our company was not agreeable, such as the throwing of rotten eggs at me.” He added: “In order to remedy this, I used to labour with extreme exertion with Mr. F’s men in crossing rivers, making rafts & bridges, &c. In this way we reached Bellevue. I found I was very much exhausted in health, having been an invalid for some years previous.”
Parker, in his Journal of an Exploring Tour Beyond the Rocky Mountains, likewise referred to the hostility of the men of the caravan, who “so disliked the restraints which our presence imposed upon them that, as they afterwards confessed, they had plotted our death & intended on the first convenient occasion to put this purpose into execution.” Since the caravan was traveling rather slowly over the two hundred mile stretch which separated Liberty from Bellevue, the three missionaries decided to remain in camp over Sunday, May 24. When the men of the caravan learned of this, they took great offense.
Parker described what happened: “After our arrangements were made for the night, one of the desperadoes came to our tent with a basin of alcohol, and stated that they had taken offense of our refusing to travel with them on the Sabbath . . . and concluded to pass it over, if we would take a friendly drink with them. This of course we declined. He said the men were highly displeased, and he could not say what would be the result -giving us to understand that if we refused their terms of reconciliation, our lives would be in danger. We still refused. He then said if we would put the basin to our lips and wet them, they would accept that as satisfaction. But his arguments and threats not availing to shake our temperance principles, he went away, but as we afterwards learned without giving up the purpose of revenge on some other occasion.”
Parker recorded a second incident in which some of the men of the caravan expressed their dislike of the missionaries and especially their disapproval “because we did not travel with them on the sabbath.” After the caravan had crossed a stream where a raft had been needed, some of the men tried to dismantle the raft and set it adrift before the three missionaries could use it. “Providentially,” wrote Parker, “it did not drift far before it lodged against a tree, and, without much loss of time, we repaired it and passed over.”
Drury, Clifford M. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. 1994. Northwest Interpretive Association: Seattle, Washington.
Did You Know?
Wagons used on the Oregon Trail had to carry nearly 2000 pounds of supplies. They traveled 2000 miles or more to the Oregon Country. Most wagons were pulled by oxen as they could eat the prairie grass and survive without lots of food for lengthy periods.