Other Features


The Oregon Trail

From Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon, the Oregon Trail represents pioneers and westward expansion. From 1836-1847 the Whitman Mission was a station on this trail, providing supplies and shelter for hundreds of emigrants traveling west. When the mission became a national park in 1940 the county road ran east-west across the park, in a location traditionally recognized as the Oregon Trail. Plans to reroute this road and reconstruct the trail were first formed in 1947, [120] although it was not accomplished until 1963. [121] A brief excavation of the supposed location in 1961 failed to reveal any archeological evidence of the trail, [122] although sketches of the mission made by eye-witnesses confirm its location.

Traditionally, the ruts were maintained with herbicides except for a brief period from 1980-1984 when hand tools were used. [123] In 1985, a gasoline powered line marker was purchased to remove any vegetation from the ruts. [124] Active management of the Oregon Trail will continue in the future, due, in part, to its inclusion on the List of Classified Structures in 1985 along with the Great Grave and Memorial Shaft. Additional classified structures at the park include the millpond, irrigation ditch, and the Walla Walla River oxbow.


Millpond, Irrigation Ditch, Oxbow, and Orchard

Whitman's millpond, originally used for irrigation and for the gristmill, was restored in 1961. [125] However, because of erosion caused by the Canada geese, mallard ducks, muskrats, moles and gophers, the dike was rebuilt in 1981 and again in 1982. [126] The millpond is currently managed under the cultural cyclic maintenance program.

The irrigation ditch is just as important today as it was when Marcus Whitman irrigated his crops 150 years ago. A section of the irrigation ditch was restored in 1961--moved from the north side of the Oregon Trail to the south. [127] As a result, the ditch is preserved and interpreted as part of the mission story, while carrying water for modern agricultural purposes, as well. [128]

While the Whitmans were at Waiilatpu, the Walla Walla River ran immediately south of their first house. It was in this river that their daughter, Alice Clarissa, drowned in 1839. Today the dry channel is visible as it bends sharply south of the first house site. Signs have marked this oxbow since 1953; the 1984 "Resource Management Plan" recommended controlling the weeds and brush with fire to further define the oxbow. [129] As a result, mowing is the current method of managing this cultural resource.

The apple orchard first planted by Superintendent Weldon to resemble the Whitmans' orchard has been maintained since 1955 with "old fashioned" apples that were available in the 1840s. Superintendent Weldon planted Northern Spy, Spizenberg, Winesap, and Baldwin varieties. [130] Today the orchard is a small cluster of trees maintained to give visitors a sense of the Whitmans' orchard.


Pioneer Cemetery and Indian Burial Ground

Management of Alice Clarissa's grave marker is discussed under the archeology section of this chapter. The pioneer cemetery is located east of the Great Grave, although only a few grave markers survived. Photographs as early as 1897 reveal two small headstones marking the graves of two early pioneer families--the Stones and McElhaneys. In 1958, Superintendent Kennedy removed these markers because they were repeatedly vandalized and in his words, "did not contribute importantly to the Whitman story." [131] In 1960, Mrs. Leslie R. Keays requested that the markers be returned to the cemetery so the assistant regional director suggested placing markers that were flush with the ground. [132] He also suggested to Director Wirth that "some sort of interpretive marker explaining the history of the entire pioneer cemetery is in order . . . . " [133] In 1960 two markers were placed flush with the ground to commemorate both pioneer families, and a wayside marker for the cemetery was established in 1986. [134]

Located at the base of Shaft Hill, a small portion of the Indian burial ground was excavated by Schumacher in 1961 [135] but, like the pioneer cemetery, was not marked. In 1978, the Native American Religious Freedom Act required re-evaluation of such policies, so marking the site was reconsidered. After consulting with elders of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, it became clear that the descendants of this culture preferred that the status quo continue. [136] Therefore, management has no plans to mark the site at present.


Last updated: March 1, 2015

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