William Gray's Campaign


In addition to Reverend Eells, another of Whitman's colleagues attempted to commemorate him on the location of the mission grounds. William H. Gray, once the mission's carpenter but by 1874 the "zealous Corresponding Secretary" [1] of Astoria's Oregon Pioneer and Historical Society, began raising funds to improve the common grave of the massacre victims. Located near the mission site, the grave was simply a dirt mound surrounded by a picket fence. Gray was appalled by what he considered the neglect of "the graves of Christian and Patriotic dead" [2] and by 1882 procured lumber for a new fence. In 1885, under the direction of President A. J. Anderson of Whitman College, a picket fence was built around the graves, which, with little repair, lasted until 1897. [3]

Equally important to Gray, though more controversial, was the establishment of a monument "to commemorate the daring and unselfish deed of Dr. Whitman." [4] In 1874, the Oregon Pioneer and Historical Society appealed to "the people of Oregon" (and the people of Washington, Idaho, and Montana) to contribute to "the erection of an appropriate Monument to the memory of our lamented Dr. Whitman, who fell a martyr in defense of Truth and Justice . . . in 1847." [5] The Society organized a committee called the Monument Association, and under Gray's direction this association solicited contributions from Presbyterian and Congregational churches, newspapers, and citizens throughout the Northwest and Walla Walla. Initially, Gray estimated the shrine's cost between $20,000-$25,000 [6] given its elaborate design:

The idea is to include the names of fifteen persons, with a granite base five feet high; a man, with or without, his wife, a noble looking woman by his side, and with or without, thirteen other bodies represented as slain lying around them. The man is to stand as the central figure with a book in the left and the American flag in his right hand. [7]

Shortly thereafter, plans were scaled down to a simple Celtic cross [8] priced between $6,000-$8,000. [9] Though the Walla Walla Daily Statesman reported that Gray's plans met with the "hearty concurrence" [10] of the community, some felt Walla Walla was a better site for the Monument. [11] Others believed that the real monument to Marcus Whitman was Whitman College, the successor of the Whitman Seminary, and so would not support Gray's plans. [12]

A more serious setback occurred in 1880 when "[the Association] learned, after collecting . . . $417.30 that we had no land on which to erect the monument." [13] Fund raising slowed but did not stop while the Association tried to secure the needed acreage. Then, in 1881, Charles and Lucinda Swegle, owners of the mission property, gave to the Oregon Pioneer and Historical Society warranty deed to seven acres which included the grave site and hill on which to build the monument. [14] The Society agreed to the additional stipulation that they erect the monument within five years, by 1886. [15] Although the exact number of years Gray solicited funds is unclear, the Oregonian estimated he canvassed "with more or less vigor up to the time of his death." [16] By the time of Gray's death in 1889 [17] it is also unclear how much money the Monument Association raised, [18] although $800.00 is a common estimate.

While erecting a monument to Marcus Whitman was an Oregon Pioneer and Historical Society project, Gray was the impetus behind the entire movement. In fact, the Walla Walla Union noted that Gray's "chief aim in life appears to be to secure funds and erect a monument on the neglected grave of Dr. Marcus Whitman." [19] Although Gray failed to achieve his goal, he was instrumental in keeping the memory of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman alive. His commitment to memorialize the Whitmans at the site on which they had worked and died brought new attention to the mission grounds. The first step toward a monument had begun.


Last updated: March 1, 2015

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