The Whitmans Return

By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
January 2010

When we last saw the Whitmans, Dr. Marcus Whitman had gone to make a house call. Their colleague, Mrs. Spalding, was about to have a baby. Narcissa Whitman decided to go along. So, on November 7, 1837, the Whitmans had wrapped up their 8 month old daughter, Alice Clarissa; closed up their house; got on their horses; and left for the Spaldings’ mission at Lapwai, 100 miles to the east. The trip took five days.

They arrived just in time. On November 15th, Mrs. Spalding gave birth to a daughter. She was named Eliza after her mother. Narcissa described Alice Clarissa’s reaction:

“Alice Clarissa enjoyed the visit equally as well as her parents…when the little Eliza was born it appeared for a time as if she would devour her in her eager grasp with her hands and her mouth in her great joy to welcome her.”

It is now December 2. Mother and child are doing well. It is time for the Whitmans to return home to their mission. They decide to go by canoe. Narcissa wrote her mother: “thought this would be a more comfortable way than to go over the hills on horseback.” But the trip didn’t go as well as hoped. Narcissa continued, “We had a tedious journey home; almost every night we were obliged to clear away the snow to find a place to camp upon, and sometimes we sailed until it was quite late to find wood, fearing we should be under the necessity of spending the night without.”

Marcus provides additional details about the trip:

“The navigation of the River is very difficult & in Some places dangerous in low water…At one time we rode past one rappid on horseback & at another after long search for a place to pass & running along by the shore we came to a very bad but short rappid & we tried to get to the shore in order for Mrs Whitman to walk but finding it difficult for the rocks we ran the rappid with all on board & by the favour of a kind Providence got safely through.”

Finally, on December 9th, they reached home. Marcus wrote:

“We found all things safe as when we left. Our corn was in a crib but was not disturbed or any thing about our premises injured.”

Dr. Whitman’s “house-call” had lasted one month. This is just one of the many extended medical visits that he would make during his time at the mission. But people also came to visit them.

This is part 13 of "A Missionary Saga." More from Season 2

Next: A Celebrity Comes Calling



Drury, Clifford M. Chapter 11 (pdf 1.9 mb) of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. 1994. Northwest Interpretive Association: Seattle, Washington.

Whitman, Marcus. 1838. Letter to Rev. Greene dated March 12, 1838. Whitman Mission Collection.

Whitman, Narcissa. 1838. Letter to parents dated March 14, 1838. Whitman Mission Collection. Selected 1838 letters (pdf 88 kb).

Last updated: January 16, 2018

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