The Whitmans Return
By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
When we last saw the Whitmans, Dr. Marcus Whitman had gone to make a house call. Their colleague, Mrs. Spalding, was about to have a baby. Narcissa Whitman decided to go along. So, on November 7, 1837, the Whitmans had wrapped up their 8 month old daughter, Alice Clarissa; closed up their house; got on their horses; and left for the Spaldings’ mission at Lapwai, 100 miles to the east. The trip took five days.
They arrived just in time. On November 15th, Mrs. Spalding gave birth to a daughter. She was named Eliza after her mother. Narcissa described Alice Clarissa’s reaction:
It is now December 2. Mother and child are doing well. It is time for the Whitmans to return home to their mission. They decide to go by canoe. Narcissa wrote her mother: “thought this would be a more comfortable way than to go over the hills on horseback.” But the trip didn’t go as well as hoped. Narcissa continued, “We had a tedious journey home; almost every night we were obliged to clear away the snow to find a place to camp upon, and sometimes we sailed until it was quite late to find wood, fearing we should be under the necessity of spending the night without.”
Marcus provides additional details about the trip:
Finally, on December 9th, they reached home. Marcus wrote:
Dr. Whitman’s “house-call” had lasted one month. This is just one of the many extended medical visits that he would make during his time at the mission. But people also came to visit them.
This is part 13 of "A Missionary Saga." More from Season 2
Drury, Clifford M. Chapter 11 (pdf 1.9 mb) of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. 1994. Northwest Interpretive Association: Seattle, Washington.
Whitman, Marcus. 1838. Letter to Rev. Greene dated March 12, 1838. Whitman Mission Collection.
Whitman, Narcissa. 1838. Letter to parents dated March 14, 1838. Whitman Mission Collection. Selected 1838 letters (pdf 88 kb).
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.