Now the Bad News
By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
In April of 1845, Dr. Whitman wrote his sponsoring board about the progress being made at his mission. In the previous article we focused on the good news. Now here's the bad.
It looked like one of the missionaries' fears was about to come true. The Whitmans and their colleagues were Protestants. An on-going concern was the potential arrival of Catholics to the area. Dr. Whitman informed his board that, "We look for a Jesuit Station some where in this vicinity…" The Jesuits are a religious order within the Catholic Church dedicated to education and missionary work.
While individuals within each group were civil to each other, philosophically the groups were arch rivals. In his letter, Dr. Whitman stressed, yet again, that the sponsoring board needed to have a stronger presence in the Oregon Country if they were going to counteract the impact of the Catholics:
Overall, tensions were building at the mission. Surprisingly, actions by some Canadian trappers were adding to the worsening situation:
Another contributing factor was a tragic event that happened in California. In the fall of 1844, a few young Walla Walla men went to California to trade for cattle. (The Walla Walla people also lived near the Whitmans' mission at Waiilatpu.) But things went terribly wrong. Dr. Whitman reported:
Many of the local Walla Wallas were enraged by this event and for awhile the Whitmans were concerned that their fury would be turned against them. But, by the time this letter was written the danger seemed to have passed.
Another death, closer to home, was causing Dr. Whitman more trouble:
"Some very trying remarks have been made also on the occasion of the death of the Chief Waptashtakmahlin. His son came to me as he was dying – and in a passion told me "I had killed his Father – and that it would not be a difficult matter for me to be killed – " You are aware already of their habit to kill their own Medicine men as they are commonly called … Two of the Gentlemen of the Hon Hudson B. Company have fallen in this way since we have been in this country"
Tempers rose, but no violence occurred. At least not yet.
This is part 35 of "A Missionary Saga." More from Season 3
Next: The Saga Ends
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.