The Monument Association, 1897


Little was done to further Gray's efforts until 1896 when, according to W. S. Holt, "The neglected condition of the grave was brought to the attention of the Presbyterian Ministers' Association [of Portland] by one of its members." [20] Given the approaching 50th anniversary of the massacre, this neglect was intolerable to the Association. As a result, church members discussed holding a "suitable celebration at the half century mark of [the Whitmans'] death, and also to have erected the monument contemplated by Mr. Gray." [21] A committee formed, composed of members from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho and led by President H. W. Corbett, Treasurer William M. Ladd, and the managing committee, Curtis C. Strong, W. S. Holt, and George H. Himes, all of Portland. [22] Under their direction, the reactivated "Whitman Monument Association" [23] generated funds for a marble grave slab and memorial shaft.

In 1897, the Reverend E. N. Condit, Dr. A. K. Dice, Allen Reynolds, and W. S. Holt "called upon the owner of the land and told him of the project." [24] As a result, Marion W. Swegle donated the seven acres, previously owned by the Oregon Pioneer and Historical Society, to W. S. Holt, Levi Ankeny, and Allen Reynolds, Trustees of the Walla Walla Trust Foundation. [25] Since the Oregon Pioneer and Historical Society failed to erect the monument as stipulated in their 1881 agreement with Charles Swegle, the acreage presumably returned to the Swegles' possession, allowing Marion Swegle to re-donate the land eleven years later. (see map, Appendix A)

In August 1897, Holt, Strong, and Himes signed a contract with Walla Walla's Niles-Vinson marble works for "fences, mausoleum, and monument at the grave of Dr. Whitman" for $2,100.00. [26] Significantly, the contract stipulated that the Memorial Association was not liable for payment and that payment was due when the funds were raised by voluntary subscription. [27] The twenty-seven-foot-high granite shaft and marble grave marker, although completed by November 29, 1897 did not arrive from Vermont in time for the memorial observance. However, the 3000 people attending the semicentennial ceremonies heard speeches by Catherine Sager Pringle, a massacre survivor, and the Reverend J. R. Wilson, followed by a program at the Walla Walla opera house. [28] The grave marker and shaft were in place by January 1898, although a $1,1000.00 debt, more than half the original cost, still existed ten years later. [29] The Association failed to collect sufficient funds in 1897, yet the original contract left the members free from liability so the debt remained.

When the Presbyterian synod met in Walla Walla in 1907, Edwin Eells, Stephen B. L. Penrose, the Reverend James C. Reid of the First Presbyterian Church of Walla Walla, and the Reverend Austin Rice of the First Congregational Church of Walla Walla assumed responsibility to liquidate this "debt of honor." [30] They asked each denomination to raise $550.00 before the sixtieth anniversary of the massacre [31] although it is not clear whether they succeeded.

While the 1897 Whitman Memorial Association failed to fund the shaft and gravemarker, they succeeded in fulfilling William H. Gray's dream. Thus, the Memorial Association's greatest contribution was erecting the shaft and grave marker which, for the next forty years, remained the sole reminder of Waiilatpu's eleven-year existence.


Last updated: March 1, 2015

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