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Where Wagons Could Go: Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spaulding


Narcissa Whitman and her husband, Marcus, went to Oregon as missionaries in 1836, accompanied by the Reverend Henry Spalding and his wife, Eliza. It was, as Narcissa wrote, “an unheard of journey for females.” Narcissa Whitman kept a diary during the long trip from New York and continued to write about her rigorous and amazing life at the Protestant mission near present-day Walla Walla, Washington. Her words convey her complex humanity and devotion to the Christian conversion and welfare of the Indians. ...
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Narcissa Whitman and her husband, Marcus, went to Oregon as missionaries in 1836, accompanied by the Reverend Henry Spalding and his wife, Eliza. It was, as Narcissa wrote, “an unheard of journey for females.” Narcissa Whitman kept a diary during the long trip from New York and continued to write about her rigorous and amazing life at the Protestant mission near present-day Walla Walla, Washington. Her words convey her complex humanity and devotion to the Christian conversion and welfare of the Indians. Clifford Drury sketches in the circumstances that, for the Whitmans, resulted in tragedy. Eliza Spalding, equally devout and also artistic, relates her experiences in a pioneering venture. Drury also includes the diary of Mary Augusta Dix Gray and a biographical sketch of Sarah Gilbert White Smith, later arrivals at the Whitman mission.
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Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review
“By the skillful merging of the diaries, letters, and biographical data . . . Drury admirably attains his purpose of presenting an epic story of great Christian devotion on the Pacific Northwest frontier. . . . an exceedingly important contribution to Pacific Northwest history.”—American Historical Review
Missouri Valley Historical Review
"A work that is magnificent in its conception, scholarly in its presentation, and pleasing in its appearance."—Missouri Valley Historical Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803266063
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 1,255,297
  • Product dimensions: 0.60 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Clifford Merrill Drury, clergyman and historian, was known for such books as Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. Julie Roy Jeffrey, chair of the Department of History and Historical Studies at Goucher College, is the author of Converting the West: A Biography of Narcissa Whitman.
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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Bison Books Edition 11
Sources and Acknowledgments 17
The Women 21
Narcissa Prentiss Whitman 25
Where Wagons Could Go, Women Could Go 31
Whitman Finds the Spaldings 33
Marriage and Departure 35
Mrs. Whitman's Diary, March to July 1836 39
Letters of March 15 and 31 40
The Mission Party Almost Left Behind 48
Letters of June 3 and 27 50
The Oregon Trail as Followed by the Missionaries 61
The Rendezvous 63
Mrs. Whitman's Diary, July to October 1836 71
The Rendezvous to Fort Hall 73
Fort Hall to Fort Walla Walla 78
Fort Walla Walla to Fort Vancouver 95
At Fort Vancouver 99
"An Unheard-of Journey for Females" 114
Mrs. Whitman's Diary, December 1836 to March 1837 at Waiilatpu 119
The Whitman Home 129
Narcissa and Her Children 143
"It was Her Misfortune" 154
The Tragedy at Waiilatpu 161
Eliza Hart Spalding 173
Called to Oregon 178
Mrs. Spalding's Diary 183
The Nez Perce Mission House 198
The Diary, January 1837 to July 1840 200
A Record of Religious Meditation 205
At Lapwai
The Columbia Maternal Association 209
The Spalding Home on the Clearwater 210
Letter of February 14, 1842 213
Mrs. Spalding's Ill Health 216
The Protestant "Ladder" 218
The Last Four Years at Lapwai 225
Mary Augusta Dix Gray 237
Letters of April 4 and September 29, 1838 242
Four Unhappy Years 245
Mrs. Gray's Diary, May to August 1840 248
Mrs. Gray's Diary, January 1841 to September 1842 254
In the Willamette Valley 267
Sarah Gilbert Smith 273
The Move to Kamiah 275
Mrs. Smith's Ill Health 276
Nearly Four Years in Hawaii 279
The Seed Takes Root 279
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  • Posted June 8, 2010

    First White Women to Cross the Rocky Mountains

    " Narcissa Whitman, who with her companion Eliza Spalding, were the first white women to cross the Rocky Mountains, as well as the first women many of the mountain men had seen in many years; the first the western Native American tribes had ever seen. As a still unmarried woman, Narcissa Prentiss had petitioned the American Board of Foreign Missions to go among the Nez Percés to teach the gospel, where she became one of the best-known figures of the historic push to the Pacific Northwest. This is due not only to the distinction of her gender and race, but also in part to the many detailed letters and diaries she has left us that impart the exhilaration of the westward migration. There is also the famously grim end she and her husband met among the Cayuse Indians.

    There is much conjecture that Narcissa's marriage was a rushed and unromantic to realize her desire of becoming a missionary to the heathen-at that time no unmarried women were recommended as missionaries on the frontier. The reply to her application to the American Board, dated December 17, 1834, from one Secretary Greene, stated: "I don't think we have missions among the Indians where unmarried females are valuable just now." Resolute in her choice, she learned that Marcus Whitman, who had already secured approval from the board, was interested in marrying her and taking her to Oregon with him. When he proposed, she took little time to accept the offer and on February 23, 1835, she applied a second time to the American Board, this time providing the information that she and Marcus Whitman were engaged. This time the Prudential Committee of the Board approved her appointment on March 18, 1835.
    At the same time Henry and Eliza Spalding were securing permission to live as missionaries among the Osage Indians.

    Throughout most of the journey, Narcissa and Eliza rode side-saddle. No favors could be expected, even for missionary women: they ventured forth at their own risk. At St. Paul they "thanked God and took courage." And courage is what they could ill afford to be without, for on that same day they came in contact with a Pawnee village where Narcissa and Eliza experienced for the first time the sensation of being objects of great curiosity by the Pawnee women. They were no doubt the first white women that most if not all the Pawnee had ever seen. Narcissa wrote: "We especially were visited by them both at noon and night. We ladies were such a curiosity to them, they would come and stand around our tent-peep in and grin in astonishment to see such looking objects.

    Eliza Spalding, meanwhile, kept both keenly observant of what belonged to God and possessed an untimely concern for the peoples and ecology effected by white emigration. When after having traveled several days on the plains of the Platte, on June 4th she entered in her diary: "We have met with but few Indians. It appears that the natives who once roamed over these vast and delightful plains are fast fading away as is the Buffalo and other game which once in vast herds ranged throughout this country." Her religious convictions aside, the fact that a white American so young and making her first sojourn across the prairie could have held such an informed opinion a decade before the great Western migrations began indicates that either she was uncommonly sympathetic or we today underestimate to what extent the emigrants understood they were altering the continent.

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