WHITMAN'S LIFE AND DEATH.
Historical Data Concerning the
WHAT HE ACCOMPLISHED.
Detail of How Whitman, Spaulding
and Gray Reached the
In view of
this general awakening to the worth of Whitman, and the recognition by
the best historians of the nation's debt to him, it seems worth the while
to tell once more the story of his life and death. It is familiar to many,
but it ought to be a household story. It rests now on a sure basis of historic
fact, attested by writers like John Fiske, McMasters and Welch. In the
days to come the boys and girls of the United States will honor the name
of Whitman and first hear of Walla Walla in connection with his story.
It has been given thus:
In the early
part of this century a trapper of the American Fur Company who made his
way from the Rocky mountains into the Northwest, spent the night with a
tribe of Nez Perces Indians. When bedtime came the Indians saw him take
out of the inner pocket of his hunting jacket a little book and slowly
turn over its leaves as his eyes traversed its pages. They had never seen
a book before. Then they watched him as he closed his eyes, and they saw
his lips moe, it seemed to them as though in some strange incantation.
They had never known what prayer was. They asked him what was the meaning
of those things which he did, and he told them that the little book which
he held in his hands was the white man's book which showed the way to the
better land; that in the East, whence he had come, there was knowledge
of the white man's God, to whom he had been praying. The news spread fast
from campfire to campfire. It was discussed by the whole tribe. The Indians
resolved at last to send an embassy of their most honored chieftains east
across the mountains to bring back knowledge of that white man's book of
heaven. In 1832 four Indian chieftains entered St. Louis. They were embassadors
of their tribe. They made their way to General Clark, the United States
army officer in command of the post, but he did not give them what they
had come for. He loaded them with presents; he showed them places of entertainment,
and the public buildings; but the purpose of their journey was not answered.
The two old chiefs died in St. Louis and were buried. The two young men
at last decided to return, but before they left one of them made a farewell
address to General Clark's office, which expressed the sorrow of a breaking
heart. His words were these:
"I came to
you from the trail of many moons from the setting sun; you were the friends
of my fathers, who have all gone the long way. I came with one eye partly
open for more light to my people, who sit in darkness. I will go back with
both eyes closed. How can I go back blind to my blind people? I made my
way to you with strong arms, through many enemies and strange lands, that
I might carry back much to them. I go back with both arms broken and empty.
The two fathers who came with us, the braves of many winters and wars,
we leave asleep by your great water and wigwams. They were tired in many
moons, and their moccasins wore out. My people sent me to get the whit
man's book of heaven, but I have not found it. I am going back the long
sad trail to my people of the dark land. You make my feet heavy with the
burdens of gifts, and my moccasins will grow old in carrying them, but
the book is not among them. When I tell my poor blind people, after one
more snow, in the big council that I did not bring the book, no word will
be spoken by our old men or our young braves. One by one they will rise
up and go out in silence. My people will die in darkness, and they will
go on the long path to the other hunting grounds. No white man will go
with them, and no white man's book will make the way plain. I have spoken."
There was a
young clerk in General Clark's office who heard that farewell speech. He
wrote it down in a letter which he sent to his family living in Pittsburg,
Pennsylvania. The letter was published, and the news spread far and wide
that the Indians of Oregon territory were asking for the Gospel. The word
came at last to the ears and to the heart of a young doctor living in western
New York state. When Marcus Whitman heard this cry ofneed he heard it as
the voice of God and said, "Here am I, send me."
1835, with Rev. Samuel Parker, under a commission from the American Board,
he reached the head waters of the Missouri, but realizing the magnitude
of the task before him, turned back to the East for recruits. In the summer
of 1836 a little party of five missionaries, Dr. Whitman and his wife,
Henry H. Spaulding and his wife, and William H. Gray, made their way across
the continent to Oregon territory.
Is there a
more romantic incident in our nation's history than that which occurred
on the Fourth of July of that same year, 1836? Month after month the little
band ofmissionaries had made their toilsome way steadily westward. At last
they have reached the summit of the Rocky mountains, and see for the first
time the western divide. As they gaze upon the strange, wild land, to which
God is calling them, they take out of their battered, canvas-covered wagon
a United States flag and unfurl it to the western breeze. They open their
Bible and kneel around it in the grass, and then with prayer and praise,
with our country's flag floating over them, and on that, our nation's birthday,
they take possession of the whole Pacific coast in the name of God and
of the United States. It is said that carved in the rock of that same South
Pass there may be seen today the name of Fremont known as "the Pathfind
of the Rockies," and under it the date, 1843. But seven years before General
Fremont, with his escort of United States troops, ever saw that pass, five
Christian missionaries, two of them Christian women, had gone through to
take possession of the land for God and for our country.
party plunged down the western slope, through the defiles and fastnesses
of the mountains along a narrow horse trail which lay winding through the
wilderness. And Dr. Whitman persisted in dragging with him their canvas-covered
wagon. The Hudson Bay Company traders tried to stop him. They knew that
if American wagons succeeded in passing the Rocky mountains the land would
be lost to Great Britain. Up to this time they had succeeded in stopping
every wagon. But Whitman was not to be deceived. Despite their urgen protestations, and the advice even of his companions, he persisted in taking the wagon.
It broke down, but he reduced it to a two-wheeled cart, and dragged it
on. It was impossible to haul it by horse along the narrow trail, but fastening
a rope to the pole, he dragged it on by hand. Mrs. Whitman, in her diary,
tells how seven times in one morning and the wagon went rolling down the
sides of the canyon into the stream below, yet still the doctor persevered
- filled with madness, as his friends thought, but an inspired madness,
as the sequel proved. Passing over the plains of Utah and Southern Idaho,
through Eastern Oregon, they came over the Blue mountains into the Columbia
river valley, and there, at Waiilatpu, four miles west of the present city
of Walla Walla, Whitman estabished their home among the Cayuse Indians,
while Spaulding and his wife proceeded up the Snake river to Lapwai among
the Nez Perces Indians. An American traveler visited the Mission three
years after Marcus Whitman had settled there. He found that in that time
Dr. Whitman had with his own hands, erected three buildings besides the
school house, was then engaged in cosntructing a grist mill, had himself
fenced in 260 acres of the surrounding prairie land never tilled before,
had plowed, harrowed and seeded it with the first crops which were ever
raised by an American west of the Rocky mountains, had learned the Indian
language, and had assisted his wife to teach the Indian boys and girls
who came thronging into the little school house, while he acted as physician
and surgeon for the region 150 miles about. Can that school house, that
grist mill, that medical missionary ever be forgotten? That Christian home
was the first known to the history of the Pacific coast.
In those early
days Oregon territory was an unknown land. American statesmen regarded
it as a wilderness of sage brush and sand, worthless for purposes of civilization.
Daniel Webster, in the senate in 1825, had said that he would never vote
an appropriation of a single cent to bring the Pacific coast one inch nearer
Boston than it then was. McDuffie had sneered at the land as not worht
one single pinch of snuff, and Benton, in the United States senate, had
said that God had set the Stony mountains to be the natural western boundary
of the United States, and he hoped to God that they would always remain
so. We got our information in those days from the British Hudson Bay Fur
Company. For many years its trappers and traders had been deriving a revenue
of hundreds of thousands of pounds in trade with the Indians for furs and
skins. Through the London Examiner, by way of England, they announced to
our government that the land would never be of value to the United States.
The Northwest boundary line had never been determined, and the land was
held under a provision for joint occupancy until the line should be drawn.
The missionary, Marcus Whitman, discovered the true facts in the case.
He learned the amazing value of that Northwest land to the United States;
of those great prairies whose fertility challenges today the admiration
of the world; of those forests, which in the state of Washington alone
will furnish lumber to the United States, without cutting a stick elsewhere,
for over a hundred years to come; of those inexhaustible deposits of coal
and iron, of gold and silver, which make the northwest a treasure house
of the nation; of those great rivers and harbors, of which Puget Sound
alone will accommodate all the commerce and navies of the world. He saw
the importance of this land, and its value to the nation of his birth. He
resolved, God helping him, that he would prevent the blunder of giving over
Oregon to Great Britain.
In the fall
of 1842 he was called to attend a patient at the Hudson Bay Company post
at Fort Walla Walla, twenty-five miles away. After attending to his patient
he sat down to dinner with the traders, and while they were at the dinner
table a guide came rushing in, bringing the exciting news that a party
of British settlers had made their way around by the north from the Columbia
river, entering Oregon to seize it for Great Britain. A young Englishman
who was at the table leaped to his feet in triumph and proposed the toast:
"Here's to Oregon; she is ours now. The United States may whistle for her."
Dr. Whitman sat silent. He knew what the words meant - the loss of Oregon
and the whole Pacific coast to the United States, the destruction of the
mission, and the degradation of the Indians as well, for it had ever been
the policy of the Hudson Bay Company to keep the Indians as savages that
trade might not be spoiled. As quick as he could he rose from the table,
and calling for his horse, rode post haste back to the mission at Waiilatpu.
As he drew rein before the mission gateway he called to the missionary
who was standing in the doorway: "Spaulding, I must go to Washington this
winter." The words sounded like those of a madman. The mission party was
quickly summoned, and Whitman laid before them his news and his intention.
He told how in Washington our statesmen were ignorant of the value of the
Northwest, and were about to cede it to Great Britain, for the Ashburton
treaty which was then under negotiation was supposed to have for its object
the determination of the Northwest boundary line. He told them of the British
colony which had invaded the land, and announced his purpose of starting
at once for Washington to lay the facts before the American government
and save Oregon to the United States. His friends expostulated with him;
it was mixing up religion and politics, they said; the American board had
not sent him out to take part in any such wild goose chase as that, and
his wife besought him with tears in her eyes not to go, for it was considered
almost certain death to try to cross the Rocky mountains in the wintertime.
But to all their remonstrances whitman had but a single reply. "Gentlemen,"
he said, "though I am a missionary, I am not expatriated; to Washington
I will go." And the next morning, within twenty-four hours of the time
when he first heard of the British invasion, he was in his saddle starting
for Washington. As he disappeared in the mountains, his wife was left,
not knowing whether she would ever see him again. Six years before she
had left her father's house in New York state, a home of wealth and culture
and refinement, and had been living in the wilderness for the sake of Christ.
The first letters which she had received from home took two years and six
months to reach her. They had gone across the Atlantic to England, had
there been shipped on a sailing vessel around Cape Horn to the Sandwich
Islands, had there been put on a little schooner which made one trip a
year to the mouth of the Columbia river, and then found their precarious
way by the hand of some stray trapper up the river to the mission station.
She never saw her home again.
is riding eastward.
He took with
him a young white man, Lovejoy, and an Indian, who professed to act as
guide, though it proved that he did not know the way. They made the first
330 miles in ten days, and came to Fort Hall, in what is now southern Idaho,
commanded by an Englishman, Captain Grant. He stopped them. There was to
him something suspicious in the sight of two young Americans starting to
ride east when the snows were already white on the mountain tops, and he
told them they could go no farther. "Why not?" asked Whitman. "The Indians
are on the warpath along the trail in the mountains," was the reply, "and
it is certain death to go farther." There was at that time but one trail
across the northern part of the continent, and Whitman had expected to
take that trail. "You must stay here," said Captain grant, "or turn back."
"No," said Whitman; "if we can't take the regular trail we will turn to
the south and take the Sante Fe trail." It was a thousand miles out of
their way over an unbroken wilderness, over mountains which white men had
never seen, over rivers which white men had never crossed. But turn to
the south they did, and plowed their way through the deepening winter snows,
to save Oregon territory to the United States.
Can you not
see the indomitable Whitman as he battles his way through the snow, his
great head set firm upon his broad and massive shoulders, his resolute
frame nerved to a purpose which was certainly inspired of God? Once on
that journey Whitman lost heart. The snows had gathered around them, and
what few landmarks there were were lost to sight. They were in a canyon,
and they knew not whether to turn to the right hand or to the left. The
doctor said at last: "Hope is gone; we might as well give up." He dismounted
and knelt down to pray. After a minute or two of silence the Indian exclaimed:
"Look at the old pack mule. See how it is turning its head and twitching
its ear as though it wanted to go in this direction." "Well," said Whitman,
"we may as well go in that direction as any other."
the old pack mule and it led the little party, under the providence of
God, back to where their morning camp-fire was still burning, and where
they found the landmarks they had lost sight of. They came, so Lovejoy
tells us in a latter which is still preserved - they came one day to a
river 600 feet wide, frozen, one-third of the way over on either side,
and with a great rushing torrent down the middle. The horses balked and
refused to enter. Whitman leaped from his saddle, cut a pole eight
or ten feet long in the bushes, and then mounting, had his companions lead
him to the edge and push him off into the icy current. Horse and rider
sank with a splash, then rising to the surface, struck out for the opposite
shore, the current bearing them diagonally downstream. The other animals
followed on behind. When Whitman reached the other shore he took the pole
which he carried on his shoulders, broke the loose ice on the edge and
clambered out on the thick ice, hauling his horse up after him. Then mounting
into his saddle, he rode on into the forest, and as he rode the water on
his clothes turned to ice, and he rode like a knight of old, clad in shining
coat of mail.
gave out. They were obliged to live on dog meat and mule meat, and at last
even on the bark of cottonwood trees, but nothing daunted them.
On the 3d of
January, 1843, they reached Bent's Fort, on the Arkansas river, Whitman's
face, hands and feet frozen, but with a clear trail ahead of them towards
Washington. The Indian and Lovejoy were too exhausted to go further. Whitman
did not stop a single day; but calling for a fresh horse, rode easterward,
knowing the fate of an empire was hanging at his saddlebow.
And now as
he rode he began to meet American settlers, who were then pouring into
the Mississippi valley. He told them of the fertility of Oregon, of its
amazing natural resources, and promised to lead back a wagon train of settlers
that coming summer.
behind and scattered handbills, some of which are known to have reached
even down into Texas, preparing for the emigration. but Whitman was riding
steadily eastward on his nobler mission. It was on the 3d of March, 1843,
when Whitman reached Washington, five months to the day from the time when
he had left Waiilatpu. The journey now is one of five days in a palace
car. It took Whitman five months to ride that four thousand miles, three
thousand of it on horseback. And when he reached Washington and made his
way to Daniel Webster, then secretary of state, he found that Webster was
engaged in a project to trade Oregon territory to Great Britain for a cod
fishery and would not listen to his story. Baffled, yet not disheartened,
he went to see President Tyler. Tyler was more impressed.
"The man is
a missionary," he said. "His face and hands show what he has been through.
But," said he, "Dr. Whitman, your story is all right, but after all Oregon
cannot be saved to the United States, because it cannot be settled from
the East. You cannot take wagons over the Rocky mountains."
wagons over the Rocky mountains?" said Whitman. "Why, Mr. President, seven
years ago I took the first wagon that ever crossed the Rocky mountains.
It is out at Waiilatpu now."
President Tyler, "if you can show the accessibility of Oregon, and that
the mountains can be crossed by wagons, I will see that the land isn't
given to Great Britain.."
It was what
Whitman had come for. Turning westward,with but a week's delay, he led
back that summer the first wagon train which ever crossed the American
continent - 200 wagons, 1000 loyal American settlers, nearly 3000 horses
and oxen - led them over the great plains, through the defiles of the mountains,
past the posts of the protesting Hudson Bay Company, out into the Walla
Walla valley, and the first news which the party at the mission had of
his safety or of his success was on that morning in September, 1843, when,
looking up, they saw the long line of white-topped wagons come winding down
the sides of the Blue mountains, and presently heard the clatter of Whitman's
horse's hoofs as he drew rein at his own door.
Such was the
way in which Marcus Whitman saved Oregon territory to the United States.
For that wagon train blazed a trail across the continent so clear and broad
that from that day on American settlers poured westward in an unending
stream. And when at last, by treaty with Great Britain, July 17, 1846,
the Northwest boundary line was settled, the influence of Whitman's work
had been felt, the value of region was recognized, and our American statesmen
claimed it for their own. The line was drawn where it now stands at the
49th parallel and thus the land was saved to the Union, from which three
states, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, have since been formed. Into that
territory you might put all of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts,
Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware,
Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and have enough left to make three Connecticuts
- saved to the United States because Marcus Whitman was prophet enough
to foresee the value of this country, and was hero enough to risk his life
to save it. Then he settled down as though he had done nothing great
to take up again his work as teacher and physician.
But the signing of that treaty with Great Britain virtually meant the signing of Dr. Whitman's death warrant. The British Fur Company would never allow itself to be robbed by any one living man of such a prize as Oregon, and from the day when the news of the treaty reached the Northwest, the traders of the fur company began to stir up the Indians against the Whitman mission. Hitherto they had considered the Whitmans as their friends - as angels sent to them from heaven. They had called the doctor "the good doctor," and had gone to him in every time of trouble. But now suspicions were planted in their minds. It was whispered to them that Dr. Whitman had a secret motive for his work; that he was trying to rob them of their lands and of their horses. In the fall of 1847 measles broke out, and Whitman treated his white patients and Indian patients alike, but strange as it may seem, his white patients recovered, while his Indian patients died. They took the same medicines, but the Indians taking his medicines would steep themselves in a sweat-box, a low lodge or hut of branches constructed by the edge of the river, in which they had placed hot stones and poured water on them to make steam baths. Reekin with sweat, they rushed out and jumped into the ice-cold stream. They died by hundreds. But they were told, "Whitman has poisoned you," and they knew no better than to believe it. On the 29th of November, 1847, the plot reached its head and broke. On the afternoon of that day Dr. Whitman was indoors giving medicine to a sick Indian. An Indian stole through the door in moccassined feet, bearing in his hand under his blanket a hatchet. quickly raising his arm he struck the good doctor one blow on the back of the head, then again. He fell to the ground with a groan and his blood gushed out upon the bare board floor. Then the war whoop rung out, and guns were fired. Mrs. Whitman fell, pierced through the breast by a rifle bullet. She and the doctor were killed, besides twelve others of the missionary party. The rest were carried away into a captivity which was worse than death. The Indians in their savage lust for destruction, burned the buildings to the ground, and hacked to pieces the very orchard which Whitman had planted, leaving not a vestige of civilization to mark the spot where Whitman had lived and died.