Garth Years 2


Archeological-Historical Research

While the impact of Garth's archeological work on the park's future will be discussed in the following chapter, a brief review of its progress is in order. The long-awaited archeological research recommended in 1936 by Regional Supervisor of Historic Sites Olaf T. Hagen, in 1937 by Russell C. Ewing, and in the 1940 master plan was finally realized in 1941. The April 1941 dig was the first visible sign of the National Park Service's management and development of the Whitman Mission, a moment long anticipated by local citizens such as Herbert West: "We are gratified to see work actually getting underway on restoration of the famous mission . . . . This culminates efforts of several years on the part of the Centennial group and others interested in the project." [4]

Unfortunately, little was accomplished before World War II due to lack of funds and manpower. A search for Alice Clarissa's [5] grave was conducted along the western boundary, a soil profile was taken to determine the best area for making adobe bricks, and corners of the Whitmans' First House were discovered.

The reason for the sudden shift away from archeology in 1942 was best described by Tom Garth at the time:

There is little prospect that archeological work can be resumed before the end of the war. Thus, if I am to continue work at the Monument it must be primarily historical research that I do . . . . In many ways it is fortunate to have this historical work far along before the excavations really begin. [6]

Until his transfer to the War Department, then, Garth spent the majority of 1942 researching at the University of California at Berkeley. The impact of Garth's research will be discussed in the following chapter but, in short, his research was of great help when excavations resumed.

Excavations began again in September 1946, but because of the approaching winter, only preliminary work on the First House and Mission House was accomplished.

The goal in 1947 was to locate all five major building sites before funds were exhausted. Therefore, the walls of the Mission House, Emigrant House and First House cellar walls were discovered along with the Grist Mill location and what Garth believed to be the Blacksmith Shop.

By 1948 the Mission House and the First House were excavated and recovered with soil.


Garth changed pace in 1949 when Regional Director Tomlinson recommended that he supervise the excavation of old Fort Walla Walla, soon to be engulfed by the flood waters of McNary Dam. [7] For two months in 1949, Garth excavated at Fort Walla Walla during the weekdays and Whitman Mission on weekends: "It wasn't necessary, except on weekends, to have anybody stationed at the Whitman Mission" [8] so Garth did not feel it was difficult to split his time between the two areas. When the Fort Walla Walla funds were exhausted for the year, work continued for a short time on the First House and Blacksmith Shop. The last half of the year Garth cleaned and catalogued the Fort Walla Walla specimens.

Custodian Garth completed the last archeological work in 1950 when he spent six weeks at Fort Walla Walla and a few months excavating the Mission's Emigrant House.

Except when Garth was assisted at Fort Walla Walla by Fort Vancouver Archeologist Louis Caywood and by Dr. Aubrey Neasham, Regional Historian, the excavations were conducted with minimal assistance. Three was the average number of assistants, though twelve people helped in 1947. Most assistants were untrained, often Walla Walla College or University of Washington students, and, since these students rarely worked more than one season, constant retraining was necessary each season. Since these helpers required close supervision, Garth believed that too few were better than too many.

Money was never readily available for the excavations, though lack of funds never severely hampered operations. Money flowed in spurts, at times slowing the archeological process. Usually funds were sufficient, especially during the summer when conditions were their best. Work was accomplished in spite of a tight budget.

The archeological excavations mark one of the most successful ventures undertaken at the mission during the 1940s. In contrast, one of the least successful projects at the mission was that of the Works Projects Administration (WPA).


Last updated: March 1, 2015

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