Introduction - Garth, 1948 Archeological Report
Profiting from exploratory work carried on the previous year, we had much to show for our efforts by the end of the 1948 season. The adobe walls of the two main dwellings were exposed, and quantities of interesting artifacts were discovered during the process. There was an unusually fine correlation between the history of the site and archeological levels. Though the site history has been amply presented in previous publications,(1) the following resume is offered to refresh memories on certain points, especially those with archeological significance.
The Whitman Mission was established in 1836 on the banks of the Walla Walla River near a Cayuse Indian village, (seven miles west of modern Walla Walla, Washington). The purpose of the founders, Dr. and Mrs. Marcus Whitman, was to Christianize and civilize the Indians, and in this they were partially successful, especially in teaching agriculture. In 1843 Dr. Whitman assisted the first great wagon train to cross the Blue Mountain barrier into the Columbia River Valley. Knowledge that wagons could go all the way to Oregon was a great incentive to the adventurous to seek homes in this rich new land, and soon ever-increasing numbers were pouring over the Oregon Trail. Many stopped at the Whitman Mission for food, medical care, fresh oxen, or wagon repairs. The main function of the mission came to be more and more the care and aid of immigrants. The Indians, who had seen their brothers on the coast lose their lands and lives to the white man and his diseases, became fearful of a like fate, though probably no drastic steps would have been taken in 1847 had it not been for the virulent measles and dysentery epidemic which swept the immigrant trains of that year. An unusually large number of sick immigrants decided to winter at the Whitman Mission, where they could get expert medical care. Soon the disease spread to the near-by Indians, with whom it was much more deadly. Seeing that Dr. Whitman's white patients usually recovered while his Indian patients often died, the Indians began to suspect him of evil sorcery, of poisoning their people in order to get their land. (2) Starting November 29, 1847, on pretext of a friendly visit, the Indians began a massacre which resulted in the death of thirteen men and one woman (Mrs. Whitman). The survivors, I mostly women and children, were treated as slaves and made to work for the tribe, sewing cloth-even the bedsheets and curtains were used-into shirts and other fancy clothing desired by the Indians, and every evening cooking a feast for the tribe. The mission buildings were plundered, and several of the women were taken as wives.
After a month of such treatment the forty-six survivors were finally ransomed by the Hudson's Bay Company with a large payment of trade goods-blankets, beads, and the like. Shortly after the survivors had started down the Columbia on boats, the Indians learned that the settlers on the coast were organizing a punitive army. Angered, the Indians returned to the mission and revengefully piled wagons and other property into the buildings and set fire to them.
Two months later (March 3, 1848) the Oregon Volunteers, 450 strong, arrived at the site, and found that the fire-blackened walls of some of the buildings were still standing. Around them were strewn books, letters, and other articles from the mission. During their stay the soldiers repaired and reroofed the T-shaped Mission House and used it as a fort (Fort Waters) and hospital. They also drove the Indians from the region. Most of the men then returned to the coast, though sixty-two stayed on, raising a crop of wheat and corn, in the hope that they would be able to settle in the valley. Not getting reinforcements by September 15, 1848, they too decided to leave for the coast. The site then lay abandoned until about 1852, when three stockmen used the adobe buildings as their headquarters. They left in the fall of 1855, shortly before the second Cayuse war began. In this uprising the Mission House, now called Fort Waters, was burned for the second time. On this occasion the Indians seem to have completely demolished the walls, probably to insure that they would not again be used for fort construction. The site lay unoccupied until 1858; when the Walla Walla Valley was opened for settlement. One of Dr. Whitman's former co-workers, Reverend Cushing Eells, then built a log cabin on the site of the Mission House. This cabin burned in 1872, making the third fire in this area in twenty-four years. Shortly afterward a frame house was built on the site. This stood until 1912, when it was moved, and a second house with a large cement-lined basement was built in its place. The last structure stood here until 1936, when the land was donated to the National Park Service so that a historic park (Whitman National Monument) might be established. The farmhouse was then torn down.
Did You Know?
In the fall of 1842 Dr. Whitman decided to travel from Waiilatpu to Boston. He wanted to convince the board members to keep his mission station open. Dr. Whitman was in such a hurry when he left that he forgot his compass.