The Whitmans' Mission at the "Place of the People of the Rye Grass"

By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
March 2009

The missionaries were gathered at Fort Walla Walla, a Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) fort located on the Columbia River. Two mission sites had been selected; the supplies had been divided. After many months of traveling together, it was time for the missionaries to go their separate ways. On November 22, 1836, Narcissa Whitman watched as the Spaldings and Mr. Gray left to establish a mission to the Nez Perce people in what is now Idaho. The Whitmans would be working with the Cayuse people at Waiilatpu – “Place of the People of the Rye Grass.” Narcissa’s husband had left the fort a few days earlier to continue work on their new home. Now Narcissa waited for Marcus to return for her.

On December 8th, Narcissa learned that Marcus was on his way. Within 48 hours of that news their 9 month, 2500 mile trip came to an end when Narcissa dismounted her horse and viewed her new home for the first time:

“Where are we now? & who are we that we should be thus blessed of the Lord. I can scarcely realize that we are thus comfortably fixed & keeping house so soon after our marriage when considering what was then before us. We arrived here on the tenth distance twenty five miles from W W [Fort Walla Walla] found a house reared & the lean too enclosed, a good chimney & fire place & the flour [floor] laid. No windows or door except blankets. My heart truly leaped for joy as I alighted from my horse entered and seated myself before a pleasant fire (for it was now night) It occurred to me that my dear Parents had made a similar beginning & perhaps more difficult one than ours.” (Letter to Narcissa’s mother started on December 5, 1836)

All through the winter Narcissa and Marcus worked on their home. Narcissa periodically added to her letter:

“Friday the 16th Mr Pambran [Factor of Fort Walla Walla] sent us a table & window sashes…Last Saturday all our windows were finished & put up. Now they are engaged in makeing partitions for two bed rooms & pantry.

Wieletpoo Jan 2 1837…We have just finished a seperate room for ourselves with a stove in it, lent us by Mr P for our use this winter. Thus I am spending my winter as comfortably as heart could wish…

Feb 18th Aniversary of our marriage…In addition to my other conveniences we have now 3 chairs & a bedstead & all our doors are made & hanging…My chairs two of them are of my Husband making; with deer skin bottoms woven as the Fancy chairs of the States are & very durable. Our bedstead is made of rough boards & nailed to the wall, according to the fashion of the country…You will scarcely think it possible that I should have such a convenience as a barrel to pound my clothes in for washing so soon, in this part of the world…I am not without a dog and good cat even. My dog was a present from Mr McLeoud [HBC employee]. These may appear small subjects to fill a letter with, but my object is to show you that people can live here, & as comfortably too as in many places east of the mountains.”

On March 14 Narcissa would have even better news to add.


This is Part 11 of "A Missionary Saga"

Next: Beginnings and Endings



Drury, Clifford M. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. 1994. Northwest Interpretive Association: Seattle, Washington.

Whitman, Narcissa. Letter to Narcissa's mother. Started December 5, 1836. Included in "The Coming of the White Women, 1836" (Part IV). T. C. Elliott. In the Oregon Historical Quarterly: vol. XXXVIII, number 1, pg. 46. March, 1937. Statesman Publishing Co., Salem, Oregon.

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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