The Spaldings' Mission at the "Place of Butterflies"
By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
November 1836. After many months of travel, the missionaries were now nearly ready to begin their real work. The women had waited at Fort Vancouver while the men searched for mission sites. With the sites selected, Rev. Spalding retrieved the women and brought them to Fort Walla Walla. Finally, everyone was together again, but only very briefly. Within just a few days they were saying “goodbye” to each other yet again. Marcus Whitman returned to his chosen site to continue working on buildings, leaving Narcissa Whitman at the fort. The Spaldings left for their site taking with them five cows, one bull, two calves and 5,000 pounds of supplies.
The Spaldings arrived at their site a week later. Rev. Spalding had selected a place along Lapwai Creek near the base of the Thunder Mountains. Lapwai means “place of butterflies.” The imagination flits with delight at the meaning of the name. The Spaldings were very pleased with their situation. Rev. Spalding wrote:
Eliza Spalding described their new home to her family:
Meanwhile Narcissa waited at Fort Walla Walla for Marcus to return.
This is Part 10 of "A Missionary Saga"
Drury, Clifford M. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. 1994. Northwest Interpretive Association: Seattle, Washington.
Spalding, Eliza. Letter to her parents, brothers, and sisters. February 16, 1837. Whitman College and Northwest Archives.
Spalding, Rev. Henry. Letter to Missionary Herald. February 16, 1837. Whitman College and Northwest Archives.
Whitman, Narcissa. Letter to Narcissa's mother. Started December 5, 1836. Included in "The Coming of the White Women, 1836" (Part IV). T. C. Elliott. In the Oregon Historical Quarterly: vol. XXXVIII, number 1, pg. 46. March, 1937. Statesman Publishing Co., Salem, Oregon.
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.