• bible sitting next to a teapot

    Whitman Mission

    National Historic Site Washington

Name Dropping

By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
April 2012

As you go through your day, interacting with people, pause a moment to consider whether the person in front of you is someone that people 175 years later will still be talking about. Or are you yourself the person that will be remembered 175 years from now? One might wonder whether these questions ever ran through the minds of Marcus or Narcissa Whitman. Regardless of whether it did or not many of the hands they shook belonged to people who we still talk about today.

Mountain men and fur trappers were prevalent in the Whitmans' lives. Some of the more well-known American trappers include Jim Bridger, Joe Meek, and Robert "Doc" Newell. At the 1835 Rendezvous, Dr. Whitman removed an arrowhead from Jim Bridger's back, a story still recounted at modern Rendezvous re-enactments. Whitman also met Newell at the 1835 Rendezvous. They traveled east together and became such good friends that Doc named one of his children after Whitman. Jim Bridger and Joe Meek trusted Whitman enough to bring their young daughters to the Whitmans' mission for the missionaries to raise. After the deaths of the Whitmans, Bridger continued to explore, finding Bridger Pass and blazing Bridger Trail. Meek and Newell went on to become major figures in early Oregon state history.

Several employees of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) that the Whitmans knew are still remembered today. When the Whitmans arrived in 1836, they stayed with John McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver. McLoughlin was head of the HBC's western division (the Rocky Mountains to Hawaii). Because McLoughlin also helped other Americans when they reached the area, he became known as the "Father of Oregon." HBC explorer/trapper Peter Skene Ogden and his family spent time with the Whitmans. Ogden, Utah is named after him. James Douglas, whom the Whitmans knew when he was still a trader for the HBC, later went on to become the Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island and the first Governor of the Colony of British Columbia, leading some to call Douglas "The Father of British Columbia."

Canadian Artist Paul Kane spent four days at the mission in July of 1847. He then traveled to a nearby village where he sketched several Cayuse. Today his paintings are shown in major museums. Copies of his paintings of chiefs Tiloukaikt and Tomahas are displayed in the park's visitor center. The watercolor portraits of Marcus and Narcissa that hang at the park were painted in the 1970s by Drury Haight and were based upon sketches made by Paul Kane in 1847.

Over the years the Whitmans also encountered explorers and scientists such as John C. Frémont, who led several exploratory trips for the U.S. government and naturalist/ornithologist John K. Townsend (Townsend's Warbler and Townsend's chipmunk, are just a couple of animals named after him).

The Whitmans lived in a period of change, exploration, and discovery. Change, exploration, and discovery still continue today. Which of the faces you look into will be the famous names of tomorrow?

This is the last installment for A Missionary Saga - Season 4.

Did You Know?

singing sparrow

Over 200 different species of birds can be found at Whitman Mission National Historic Site. A large proportion of these are migratory and wintering birds indicating the importance of the 139-acre parcel as a stop over for those species. More...