Asa Smith Describes Work at Waiilatpu
Asa Smith was a colleague of the Whitmans. He was part of the reinforcements that arrived at Waiilatpu in 1838. The quotes below describe work being done upon his arrival.
In a letter dated September 15, 1838, Smith told of Whitman’s success. “My first business here has been to assist in securing the crops,” he wrote. “Dr. W. has about 17 acres in all under cultivation. His crop of wheat was very fine. It is not threshed but he thinks there will be from 75 to 100 bushels from 2 1/2 acres. Nicer wheat I never saw. His crop of corn was good. No frost touched it . . . The corn is all gathered in & put in big cribs - near 300 bushels of it. Potatoes do well here. Dr. has about 6 (?) acres, all in the field yet - thinks there will not be less than 1000 bushels. He has about 2 acres of turnips, & garden vegetables in abundance. We have had an abundance of melons all the time since we have been here."
“The labor of gleaning the crops is done considerably by the natives. The women do most of the work. They have harvested the corn almost entirely. Some of it was brought from the field to the house in bags on the backs of the women. We have no vehicle of any kind for the transportation of articles. No cart, sled, or corn dray. Much of the corn was cut up & drawn to the house by the oxen on brush. This was very hard dragging.” [Several years had to pass before Whitman was able to obtain a wagon.]
Smith’s account continues: “We labor to great disadvantage in many respects. We are in great want of tools of most every kind. Dr. has two ploughs but neither of them very good . . . We labor under disadvantage in respect to building. There is no good building timber nearer than 20 miles. On the mountains there is a great abundance of excellent pine & spruce but at present it is very difficult getting it. There is a limited supply of cottonwood (a kind of poplar) on the streams near us & scarcely any other timber . . We build our houses here with dobies, or clay dried in the sun in the form of brick 20 inches long, 10 wide & 5 in thickness. This is the best of anything we can use.”
From First White Women Over the Rockies, by Clifford Drury, Vol. III, page 159, as quoted in Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon by Clifford Drury, Vol. I, pg 329.
Did You Know?
The Whitmans’ mission was important to early Oregon Trail travelers. Those who were sick, tired, or hungry or who needed a wagon fixed would make the side trip to the mission. Some would spend the winter with the Whitmans before continuing on to the Willamette Valley.