The Whitmans' Mission at the "Place of the People of the Rye Grass"
By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
The missionaries were gathered at Fort Walla Walla, a Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) fort located on the Columbia River. Two mission sites had been selected; the supplies had been divided. After many months of traveling together, it was time for the missionaries to go their separate ways. On November 22, 1836, Narcissa Whitman watched as the Spaldings and Mr. Gray left to establish a mission to the Nez Perce people in what is now Idaho. The Whitmans would be working with the Cayuse people at Waiilatpu – “Place of the People of the Rye Grass.” Narcissa’s husband had left the fort a few days earlier to continue work on their new home. Now Narcissa waited for Marcus to return for her.
On December 8th, Narcissa learned that Marcus was on his way. Within 48 hours of that news their 9 month, 2500 mile trip came to an end when Narcissa dismounted her horse and viewed her new home for the first time:
All through the winter Narcissa and Marcus worked on their home. Narcissa periodically added to her letter:
On March 14 Narcissa would have even better news to add.
Drury, Clifford M. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. 1994. Northwest Interpretive Association: Seattle, Washington.
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?
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.