Packing for an "Unheard of Journey for Females"
On February 19, 1836, the day after their wedding, newlyweds Marcus and Narcissa Whitman said their final goodbyes to Narcissa’s family and friends. Their ultimate destination would be far to the west. Somewhere in the foreign land of the Oregon Country they would establish a new mission. The trip would be long and special supplies would be needed.
But first there were other people to visit and more goodbyes to be said. As they traveled they took advantage of every opportunity to get needed items. While visiting Marcus’s family in Rushville, New York, Narcissa had a pair of “Gentlemen’s boots” made for her “in Brother Augustus shoe store.” The women of the church gave Marcus several shirts.
In Pittsburgh, Marcus and Narcissa boarded the Siam. They would travel all the way to Liberty, Missouri, on steamboats. In a letter to her sister Jane, Narcissa described a piece of specialized travel gear: “We have each of us a life preserver so that if we fall into the water we shall not drown. They are made of India Rubber cloth, air tight and when filled with air and placed under the arm will prevent us from sinking.”
As they traveled their party grew. In Ithaca, New York, Marcus retrieved Ais and Tack-it-ton-i-tis, two Nez Perce boys that had traveled to the East with Marcus the previous year. The boys were now returning home. In Cincinnati, the party was joined by Rev. and Mrs. Spalding. The Spaldings would help the Whitmans establish the mission. The group continued by river to Liberty. There they met the final member of their missionary group, Mr. Gray. They also met Samuel Temoni, another Nez Perce who wanted to return home.
At Liberty the final preparations were made. The men went shopping. Marcus’s list of purchases included: seeds; medicines and medical instruments; tools; furniture; guns and ammunition; saddlery and harnesses; clothing; books and stationary; and trade goods. The men also bought a heavy wagon, twelve horses, six mules, thirteen head of cattle, and four cows for fresh milk. Marcus listed the total expenditures as $3,063.96.
While the men shopped, Narcissa and Eliza Spalding made a tent for the trip. According to Narcissa: “It is made of bed ticking in conical form, large enough for us all to sleep under . . . raised with a center pole and fastened down with pegs, covering a large circle. There we shall live, eat and sleep for the summer to come at least, perhaps longer.”
They were now ready for the cross country part of the journey. At this point their party numbered ten: five missionaries, three Nez Perce, and two hired helpers. Ten people was too small a group to make the trip across the continent safely. Therefore arrangements had been made to join a group of fur traders that was also traveling west. But the missionaries would have to reach the trappers’ caravan first.
Drury, Clifford M. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. 1994. Northwest Interpretive Association: Seattle, Washington.
Did You Know?
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.