Too Many People Under One Roof

By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
February 2010

The Whitmans and Spaldings were about to receive the extra help they had been longing for. The missionary board had sent new recruits. Dr. Whitman wrote about their feelings: “We felt like Paul when he met the brethren from Rome, ‘We thanked God and took courage.’” The new missionaries were also excited. Mr. Gray had returned to the States to get married. He brought with him his new bride, three more newlywed couples and a single gentleman. The group had been traveling together for four long, nerve-racking months. The newlyweds had shared two small tents, hence some of the friction. Here are some of their comments about arriving at the Whitmans’ mission:

Mary Walker:

“We were feasted on melons, pumpkin pies & milk…Towards night we partook of a fine dinner of vegetables, salt salmon, bread, butter, cream, &c. Thus our long toilsome journey at length came to a close.”

Sarah Smith:

“The Doctor’s house would be considered in the States a very rough one. Part of it is log & part dobie or dried clay. One side of it has partly fallen down & [is] propped up with large poles.”

Myra Eells:

“The furniture is very primitive. The bedsteads are boards nailed to the side of the house, sink fashion, then some blankets and [corn] husks made the bed; but it is very good compared with traveling accommodations.”

Three couples - the Walkers, Eells, and Smiths - ended up spending the winter with the Whitmans. Asa Smith described the situation:

“There are 4 families of us [missionaries] besides an Owihee [Hawaiian] & his wife & a Frenchman & his wife who work for the Dr. …This makes six families in one small house consisting of 3 rooms & 2 bedrooms...You can judge how comfortable it is to have such a house full.”

Having “such a house full” was bound to cause some problems. Entries from Mary Walker’s diary hint at the trials of those months.

Sat. Sept. 29: … Got almost out of patience with Mrs. E’s habit of snuffing. I wish someone would tell her about it. Thurs.

Oct. 4: … Mrs. E. is in a great worry because she expects to be obliged to winter here & Mrs. Smith is worried for fear her husband will not get along so well [if] Mr. Walker & Eells are here.

Fri. [Nov.] 30: Dr. W. quite out of patience with Mr. Smith. Mrs. W. washing. Think she has less help from other ladies than she ought.

Probably the saddest entry:

Tues. Dec. 4: … [Narcissa] Went out doors, down by the river to cry.

The winters here can be very cold. How would you feel about going camping in January? With so much dissension in the house, it is no wonder that Narcissa jumped at any chance to escape, regardless of the weather.

This is part 18 of "A Missionary Saga." More from Season 2

Next: Their Only Vacation



Drury, Clifford M. Chapter 13 (pdf 1.5 mb) of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. 1994. Northwest Interpretive Association: Seattle, Washington.

Drury, Clifford M. On to Oregon: The Diaries of Mary Walker & Myra Eells. 1998. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln and London.

Thompson, Erwin N. A Feasibility Study on Historical Reconstruction, Whitman Mission National Historic Site, Washington. 1973. Denver Service Center, National Park Service, U.S. Dept. of the Interior.

Last updated: January 16, 2018

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