By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
Dr. Whitman had made a mad dash across the continent to Boston in order to save his mission from being closed by the missionary board. While back east, he took advantage of the opportunity to visit relatives, but he had just a little over a month, so none of his visits were as long as he would have wished. On April 8 he was still in Boston, location of the missionary board; by May 27, he was in Westport (now part of Kansas City, Missouri).
Westport was a jumping off spot, a town where one could join a wagon train headed west, which is how Dr. Whitman planned to travel home. The wagon trains were starting later that year, so now Dr. Whitman had to sit and wait. What did Dr. Whitman do with his time? One thing he did was write letters to the people he had just visited.
To his mother he expressed his regret at not being able to stay longer and that he was happy with the life he had chosen:
I regret I did not stay longer at the east as the companies are so slow in starting. I might about as well have been three weeks later but as I could not know before hand, it was better to be safe…I shall have been here nearly two weeks when I go on… My health is good but I am not as fleshy as I was when I was in N. York. I do not want to tax my Mule with ten pounds surplus…I am happy myself. Oh My Dear Mother! – how often have I thought how reluctant you were for me to go to Oregon & how many fears you had for my safety & comfort…The happiness of life is not made up in what we have so much as in the manner we posses & use the things we have…Oregon has the strength of my affection of body & mind.
For his brother-in-law Edward Prentiss, he had some advice, advice which may sound familiar to many parents and is still relevant today:
I supose you think yourself a man now & perhaps are not anxious for advice. I will venture however to let you know how anxious I am for you to complete your education. Entering the Ministry a year or two sooner will not avail for any good purpose.
To another brother-in-law, Jonas Galusha Prentiss, Dr. Whitman shared some of his thoughts on travel logistics. He especially went on about the value of sheep. Here is just part of what he said:
Sheep & cattle but especially sheep are the indispensible for Oregon One man goes with us who thinks he is sure to be an Indian agent over there I mean to impress the Secretary of war that sheep are more important to Oregon interest than soldiers...
His last letter from Westport was to the missionary board, whom he had recently visited. He expressed concerns over religious development of the Oregon Country:
They [emigrants] look like a fair representation of a Country population Few I conclude are pious… We do not ask you to become the patrons of emigration to Oregon but we desire you to use your influence that in connexion with all the influx into the country there may be a fair proportion of good men of our own denomination who shall avail themselves of the advantages of the country in common with others …I think our greatest hope for having Oregon at least part Protestant now lies in encouraging & proper attention of good men to go here while the country is open.
Dr. Whitman knew that the group going west that year was large. But he didn't know that it was so large that it would become known as the "Great Migration of 1843."
This is part 30 of "A Missionary Saga." More from Season 3