Mission Period Artifacts - Garth, 1948 Archeological Report
The artifacts recovered from the ashes of the Mission House add immensely to our knowledge of the material aspects of life at the mission. A much wider variety of tools, household objects, and the like were recovered than had been found previously. Many of these items have a personal significance, being traceable as property of Dr. Whitman or his wife or others at the mission. In rooms B, C, and D and just outside the front door more than twenty peg-type false teeth were found. These are individually molded of fine porcelain and include eye teeth, incisors, and canines, but no molars. (28) It is highly probable that these teeth (which had never been used) were in Dr. Whitman's medical kit, and were scattered about the floor when the Indians plundered the house after the massacre. Doctors in the early nineteenth century also practiced dentistry. Dr. Whitman is known to have filled teeth for Cushing Eells and other associates. Other medical supplies include two fragments of a fever (?) thermometer tube, what is probably the handle of a surgical knife with the blade (which folded) missing, a small bronze weight for scales possibly used in weighing medicines, numerous fragments of medicine bottles, and one bottle intact with some of the medicine (a crude type of iodine) still in it. The glass stopper evidently created a near-perfect seal. On the base of the bottle is a pontil mark, indicating that it was hand blown. The iodine was probably used to cauterize wounds, etc.
Perhaps the most interesting fact about the medicine bottle is the place in which it was found. This was in the Indian Room, where the Osborn family was staying shortly before the massacre. When the massacre began, the parents had presence of mind enough to lift up loose floor boards and crawl underneath with their three children. It would be most natural for Mrs. Osborn, who had been sick; to take a bottle of medicine with her when she hid. In the darkness and excitement of leaving their hiding place that night to escape, the bottle could easily have been misplaced and left behind. Its being under the floor explains why it was not broken (exploded) by the heat of the fire or by the impact of the falling roof, or by the Indians in the month between the time of the massacre and the burning of the building. The Indians were superstitious about Dr. Whitman's medicines and believed that they contained poison. More than likely they purposely broke most of the medicine bottles. (29)
In Figure 2, Q marks the location of a cabinet for curios and geology specimens. Spalding's inventory lists a "cabinet consisting [of] Geology specimens, with specimens of shells-minerals, Indian curiosities." Dr. Whitman was much interested in geology and collected odd specimens on his frequent trips throughout the region. (30) We found several unusual crystals and pieces of petrified wood, particularly in room C and just outside the front door. Adjacent to a petrified wood specimen near the door was a broad bone needle with most of the eye missing, and less than fifteen feet away was the lower half of a basalt spear point. These may have been part of the collection of Indian curiosities mentioned above. However, no trace was found of the shells or of most of the other items that were probably in the cabinet.
It is likely that most of the broken plates, bowls, milk pitchers, and other crockery found belonged in Mrs. Whitman's kitchen. In no case was a complete piece found, although enough of three plates and one bowl were recovered so that they could be mostly reconstructed. (31) Much of the broken chinaware was in the area in and near the pantry, although it was found in some degree in all parts of the ruin. The only cooking utensils unearthed were a flat pan-like sifter and the copper lid to a pot. This dearth of cooking utensils is to be expected, as the Indian women must have taken everything they thought they could use. Also in the pantry were two spoons, one of pewter and the other of silver with the initials "S.C.P." engraved on the handle. These more than likely stand for the names Stephen and Clarissa Prentiss, Mrs. Whitman's parents. The spoon may have been part of a wedding gift of family silverware given the newly-wed Mrs. Whitman and her husband before they came west in 1836. Other finds that apply particularly to the mission household include a steel table knife, (32) portions of two or three large glass tumblers with thick bases and thin side walls, the bone handle of a toothbrush, (33) a child's shoe sole 5 1/2 inches long which must have belonged to a two or three-year- old child, (34) the iron hook part of a coat hanger (no doubt from one of the clothes presses mentioned in the inventory), several flints and steels for starting fires, fragments of extremely thin glass from what may have been a lamp chimney, a few fragments of glass jars probably used for preserving, (35) a few fragments of dark brownish-green bottle glass, and one hand-soldered tin can.
Our findings in the textile category consist of a bone shuttle about two- thirds intact, a blade from a pair of sheep shears, the skull of a sheep in near- perfect condition, and several samples of charred cloth at least one of which appears to be homespun. The Whitmans taught the Indians to weave and introduced sheep from Hawaii in 1838. By 1845 they had 80 head. Spalding's inventory of mission property lists "two spinning wheels, 8 spinning heads, 4 pair of wool cards and 200 lbs. of wool." There was also a loom at the mission.
Spalding's inventory also mentions a cook stove with pipe and two box stoves with pipe. One of the box stoves may have been in the Mansion House 400 feet to the east. We found nothing we could identify as part of a box stove, but we did find several half-inch-thick fragments of what was probably a heavy cast-iron cook stove. It must have broken under the impact of the falling roof. We also found portions of a stove lid or lids and two pieces of 6-inch stove pipe, as well as a stove leg with a diagonal hatchure design. Matilda Sager described the stove in the following words:
The following list of hardware and tools was recovered from the mission level (floor 4): a door hasp and several hinges, (37) a drawer or cupboard pull of cast iron, a 3-inch-diameter cast-iron weight for scales, 3 meat hooks (in the cellar), a crow bar (mentioned in the inventory), a barrel hoop with portions of the staves adhering, and a 7-inch diameter cast-iron burr for a coffee mill. This last could conceivably have been used in the first water-powered mill at the mission in 1839, (38) or it may have been used by the Oregon Volunteers or stockmen (1853-55) for grinding coffee, as floors 4 and 3A are undifferentiated in the area (outside the walls) where the burr was found. Verifying the historically recorded fact that the Indians piled wagons or wagon parts in the house before setting fire to it, (39) we found portions of the strap-iron reinforcing for a wagon bed or beds with some of the charred hardwood adhering, the king bolt with strap-iron reinforcing for attachment of the front axle to the wagon bed, portions of a wagon tire, and the metal collars for the hub, the long hasp for locking the end-gate on a wagon, ox shoes, the U-shaped coupling in the center of an ox yoke, a horse bit and shoes, etc. Most of the wagon parts were found in the cellar, indicating that wagons or parts thereof were piled in room H before the building was set on fire. An interesting array of foodstuffs was preserved in a charred state by the falling dirt roof of the house. These were mostly found in the ashes of room C along with numerous buckshot, beads, buttons, pins, musket balls, and the like. Charred wheat, beans, peas, and a very small type of corn cob with a few kernels adhering, as well as one squash seed, were thus preserved. Also found were several small peach pits. The mission peach orchard had only been bearing for a few years before the massacre. Scattered throughout most of the house from the cellar west were numerous charred bones of cattle and other stock, attesting to the orgy of feasting by the Indians on the mission food supplies and stock. During the month-long period after the massacre the survivors worked as slaves for the Indians, preparing a nightly feast. Much of this feasting must have occurred in the Mission House, where the food was no doubt prepared and cooked. (40) When the house was set on fire the floors must have been littered with bones of all sorts. Also recovered were the jaws of a hog, the nearly complete skeleton of a chicken, and the skull of a coyote or Indian dog. (41) The skull was in an out-house pit and so the animal may have met its demise some years before the massacre.
Probably the most spectacular of our finds occurred on the cellar floor. This was a large pile of gun hammers, springs, triggers, and other tools for gunsmithing. The following quotation from a letter by W. J. Berry, a gunsmith, to Governor Joseph Lane explains how it came to be at the mission.
The majority of the pieces found are gun hammers for percussion-type (cap and ball) guns of the period. These hammers were of cast iron and not infrequently broke. Consequently a gunsmith would have a large number of replacements in stock.
Other items found include large fragments of slate (there was a blackboard in the Indian Room), gun flints, a piece of printing type, (43) a drafting tool for making dotted lines, etc. Many of the objects are too corroded or too strange in type to identify readily, though identification may ultimately be made. Most of the nails from the house were hand forged with irregular shaped heads. Some of the flat-headed "cut" nails were also used, however. There are said to have been 300 pounds of nails at the mission in 1847. Many of these may have been used by the Volunteers when they reconstructed the building. Most of the bolts are square- shanked and threaded at the ends. The nuts are larger than modern types and have obviously been made by hand.
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.