Archeology 1941


Archeology 1941-1950

The 1941-1950 excavation was the first development project completed at the Whitman National Monument. In 1938 Olaf T. Hagen, Regional Supervisor of Historic Sites, explained that excavating the mission site was top priority in order to ensure "that new development would not intrude on parts of the historic area." [3] Excavation was also required before serious consideration could be given to the idea of reconstructing the mission buildings. Therefore, custodian-archeologist Tom Garth excavated the mission site from 1941-1950; because of World War II the bulk of work was accomplished from 1947-1948. When the project neared completion in 1950, the first house, mission house, emigrant house, gristmill, and blacksmith shop had been examined, although very little evidence of the blacksmith shop was discovered. More than 2,000 artifacts were unearthed and preserved from these excavations, including medical supplies, china sherds, and metal fragments. While complete findings of these excavations are recorded in Garth's final reports, [4] the excavations exposed the mission building foundations revealing building materials and methods of support, [5] and in many cases verified eye-witness descriptions of the site. [6] In addition, Garth uncovered evidence of the site's occupation by the Oregon Volunteers in 1848, adding to understanding of this post-mission period. [7]

The archeological excavations precipitated the completion of much needed research on Whitman Mission's appearance. In 1938, Regional Supervisor of Historic Sites Hagen emphasized "it is important that any excavation be preceded by exhaustive research on the location and description of all later buildings erected on the site as well as those of the early mission." [8] Thus, due to the impending excavation, the research void was quickly filled. George Tays of the Historic Sites Project-Whitman Mission's first historian--wrote a study on the mission site's appearance, and "The Whitman Mission Gristmills" was authored by William H. Gardner with notes by Hagen. In 1941, Archeologist Garth finished his study of Pacific Northwest architecture, which placed the Whitman Mission in the perspective of architecture during that time.

The effects of this research on the excavation were immediate. In reference to Garth's 1948 "Preliminary Report on Excavations in the Ruins of the Whitman Mission," Hillory A. Tolson, Acting Director of the National Park Service, remarked: "The report is noteworthy for the excellent way in which the historical data is integrated with the archeological evidence found in the ground." [9]

Chief Historian Herbert E. Kahler acknowledged Garth's 1949 work, "A Report on the Second Season's Excavations at Waiilatpu": "This report admirably illustrates the usefulness in employing archeological research methods to aid and supplement historical research methods." [10]

Finally, in response to "The Mansion House, Gristmill and Blacksmith Shop at the Whitman Mission, A Final Report," Chief Historian Kahler remarked, "We believe this to be a most important document, contributing much to our knowledge of the Whitman Mission structures." [11] Thus, research completed from 1940-1947 contributed to a more accurate interpretation of the archeological ruins.

The 1941-1950 excavation was the first attempt to verify historical information about the Whitman Mission. Combined with historical research, the excavations provided the basis for cultural resource management of the mission site from 1952-1962. The building sites were outlined and conjectural drawings were posted based on the evidence discovered by Archeologist Garth. As a result, the blacksmith shop was interpreted as a wooden, semicircular building until additional research proved this description incorrect. After Garth uncovered well-preserved adobe walls of the first house, they were displayed as an important cultural resource from 1954-1978. Although additional information gleaned from the 1960 excavations further improved cultural resource management, the first guide was and still is the excavation of 1941-1950.


Last updated: March 1, 2015

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