Archeology 1960


Archeology 1960-1961

The second and final excavation at Whitman Mission National Historic Site, the 1960-1961 dig, solved a few more of the mission's mysteries and further improved the park's cultural resource management. The goals: discover the blacksmith shop and the grave of Alice Clarissa Whitman--the Whitmans' only daughter.

In 1959, the blacksmith shop excavation was added to the Mission 66 development projects. Superintendent Kennedy justified the exploratory work:

Recent information indicates that what is presently marked as the site, together with size and shape, of the Whitman Blacksmith Shop, is very likely not accurate inasmuch as the descriptions found are at variance with those now portrayed. It is desirable to carry out new archeological exploratory work to establish the facts about the blacksmith shop and thus assure that its interpretation has a foundation in fact. [12]

More simply put, Tom Garth's interpretation of a wooden blacksmith shop was proved incorrect after the 1954 discovery of William H. Gray's 1842 description of its adobe construction. [13] In light of this new discovery, further excavations were necessary to determine the building's location and dimensions. Any attempt to reconstruct the mission buildings would depend on accurate information.

Evidence for locating the blacksmith shop looked promising after Regional Archeologist Paul J. F. Schumacher excavated in October 1960. [14] Encouraged by the first dig, another search for the blacksmith shop proceeded from July-August 1961. [15] Although the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin reported in August 1961 that, "Archeologists have unearthed several pieces of material . . . that they believe is the remains of the blacksmith shop," [16] Erwin Thompson's 1973 "Feasibility Study on Historic Reconstruction" concluded that Schumacher "failed to locate any definite outline of the structure." [17] Despite this lack of conclusive evidence, Schumacher's excavation revealed enough information to at least warrant replacing the blacksmith shop's semicircular outline with a square outline. The 1962 "Annual Report on Information and Interpretive Services" reported that "the marker for the shop points out that the exact location of the building has not yet been determined." [18] Later this qualifier was dropped and the site simply interpreted as the blacksmith shop. As a result, the method of marking the shop's approximate location with concrete blocks continues today.

A search for Alice Clarrisa Whitman's grave was conducted at the same time. Superintendent Kennedy explained the need for this project in 1959:

Research has indicated that it may well be in one of two locations, both of which are situated in places which may be occupied by roads or trails in the proposed development of the Monument. In order to locate the remains so that they may be safeguarded . . . and properly marked, the explorations are necessary. [19]

Although the impending road and trail construction facilitated the excavation, interest in locating Alice Clarissa's grave existed long before 1959. Tom Garth reportedly discovered a child's grave in 1948 but could not prove it was Alice Clarissa's. [20] In 1953, a member of the Whitman family requested a marker in her memory. [21] Whitman Mission Historian Jack Farr concluded in 1958 that historical references to the grave indicated its probable location either north of the mission house near the old county road, or in an area "from the fence separating the Monument property and the Frazier property, to the road on the west side of Shaft Hill about fifty yards southeast of the Great Grave." [22] When the October 1960 excavation failed to find the grave in the vicinity marked for construction, the road project proceeded without further delay. While Archeologist Schumacher did not find where the grave was, at least he determined where it was not.

Schumacher made one final effort to locate the grave in 1961. Acting under the assumption that the mission cemetery was near the base of Shaft Hill, Schumacher excavated along the base of the hill, near the Great Grave. [23] Schumacher hoped that the discovery of a skeleton within a coffin "about half way to the Great Grave from the entry road into the Monument" [24] would indicate the location of the child's grave. However, the skeleton--that of an Indian--helped locate the Indian burial grounds rather than Alice Clarissa's remains. [25]

In spite of the failure to locate the child's grave, in 1966 Mrs. Goldie Rehberg, honorary member of the Board of Trustees, Marcus Whitman Foundation, initiated a project to erect a marker to Alice Clarissa Whitman. [26] The movement gained widespread community support, so in 1966 and 1967 Schumacher returned to the mission to discuss the location for a marker in her memory. [27] On May 8, 1968, the Marcus Whitman Foundation dedicated a marker to the Whitman's only daughter [28] near the location of Schumacher's 1961 discovery of the Indian grave--approximately half way between the Great Grave and the Park's east entrance. Later that year, Park Ranger Larry Dodd discovered a letter-to-the-editor written in 1888 by massacre survivor Matilda Sager. The letter places the location of Alice Clarissa's grave next to the common burial site "where the parents and their only child would lie side by side . . . " [29] Superintendent Stickler said that the location revealed in this letter would be marked, [30] although it never was. Regional Archeologist Schumacher said that the 1888 letter:

Certainly supports my contention that they would have buried the massacre victims near the already existing Mission cemetery and therefore, Alice Clarissa's grave is in the hillside at the base of the slope, more or less where Superintendent Stickler and I marked it. [31]

In fact, if Matilda Sager's description is accurate, then Alice Clarissa's grave is probably closer to the Great Grave than marked. [32] Superintendent Amdor wrote in the 1982 "Resource Management Plan" that, "it remains questionable if the spot along the west end of the Shaft Hill is the most fitting for such a marker." [33] Nevertheless, the archeological excavations gave Superintendent Stickler and Regional Archeologist Schumacher some indication of where the grave might logically have been as well as revealing where it was not. Management has not found it necessary to move the stone, so the Alice Clarissa Memorial remains today as it did in 1968.

While the 1960-1961 excavations did not provide as much new information as hoped, they provided enough information for administrators to proceed with some very important cultural resource decisions. Superintendent Kennedy approved the new blacksmith shop markings, and Superintendent Stickler approved Alice Clarissa's grave marker. In addition, Schumacher's brief excavation of the Oregon Trail and Whitman's original irrigation ditch in 1961 assured their restoration: the irrigation ditch in 1961 and the Oregon Trail in 1963. The location of the park's new approach road and trails also depended on the archeological finds, as did the reconstruction issue. Further, Historian Erwin Thompson researched the blacksmith shop history and the graves at Waiilatpu in order to assist Schumacher's work, just as preliminary research of the mission buildings helped Tom Garth. The excavations of 1960-1961 stimulated research, cultural resource management, and interpretation and ultimately contributed to a more accurate representation of the Whitmans' mission.


Last updated: March 1, 2015

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