The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 12

 

By Holice, Pam, and Deb

Extra special thanks to Holice B. Young for transcribing this series of books!

 

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CHAPTER XII.

HOW WASHINGTON WAS WON FOR THE UNION--THE STORY OF
DR. WHITMAN'S FAMOUS TRANSCONTINENTAL RIDE.

"His fingers were frosted, his mantle of fur,
Ere he finished that fateful ride,
When with purpose too fixed and determined to err,
He breasted each bleak mountain side,
Or traversed the prairie unbroken and white,
Spread with glittering garment of snow;
But little he recked, as he rode for the right,
How bitter its north winds might blow!"

--BREWERTON.

The citizen of the United States, or, as they prefer to call us abroad, the Yankee, is too often represented as being a mere money-getter, unscrupulous, keeping, in his selfish greed of gain, only the main change in view, and ruthlessly trampling under foot every flower of sentiment, every purer and more patriotic consideration as he makes his way to some selected goal of fortune. There are such men, less in number, I fancy, in proportion to the great bulk of our native population than will be found in the Old World beyond the sea; but they are by no means a majority. Taken as a mass, no people are more thoroughly devoted to the advancement of the best interest of the land that gave them birth than Americans; more ready to defend her rights, and, if need be, pledge, as did their fathers of old, their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor in the defense of their integrity. Let those who doubt remember the uprising of 1861, and the cry, "Fifty-four-forty or fight," that ran through the land when at an earlier day our Northwest boundaries were threatened. It is an equal mistake to imagine because a man leaves his home to become a dweller in the wilderness, that in so doing he forgets its teachings or relinquishes his patriotism; on the contrary, they grow stronger; the enforced isolations of the forest and the prairie turn his mind in upon itself, and serve to strengthen and renew them. This was especially true of our Washington pioneers. The flame might be hidden and appar-

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ently dormant, but let an unfriendly word be spoken or a rude hand laid upon our national rights or honor and it straightway became a consuming fire to wither and destroy the opposer. The attempts of Great Britain to make Oregon, and consequently the present state of Washington, English in reality if now in name--a province in sentiment, which the chances of time might, if thus prepared, turn into an actual holding, must be patent to all who have perused the history of their policy and its manipulations as exercised through its willing agent, the Hudson's Bay Fur Company. This action on their part, insidious though it might be, was not so cunningly managed as to hide itself from some of the comparatively few Americans then abiding on the Northwest coast. To them the trail of the serpent was visible; but cut off as they seemed to be from the watch, care and defence of the Federal Government and their fellow-citizens beyond the mountains, to whom the wilds of Oregon and the Northwest seemed but a land unknown, with little to tempt its occupancy, it was no easy matter to say by what means the people of the East should be aroused from their apathy and made aware of these English plans for usurpation. Such was the condition of things when the needs of the hour produced a man who saw, comprehended, and promptly grappled with an emergency which ad already reached a point where opposition seemed hopeless and the success of the enemy assured.

And that man was Dr. Marcus Whitman, a fearless patriot, a far-seeing, tireless, enthusiastic Christian men, destined, his good work nobly done, to fall, in after years, at his post of duty, a victim to the superstition, cruelty, and treachery of the savages whom he endeavored to save.

We had intended to tell in our own words the story of his wonderful ride, compared with which the midnight message of gallant Paul Revere sinks into insignificance, and that of hero Sheridan, so often sung and lauded, becomes a commonplace affair; but it has been so graphically done by the able pen of Du Bois, that we prefer to quote as largely as possible from his most realistic narrative, giving him credit wherever we adopt his precise words. He says in substance, after a preamble setting for the details of the situation which our history anticipates:

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The Northwest coast was in reality a mighty hunting ground, its interior furnishing the product, its coasts the harbors from whence were explored the rich furs so easily obtained. It was, in fact, a vast game preserve, of which the British were the self-appointed keepers, and every post and station of the Hudson's Bay Company, a watch-tower from whence eager eyes looked constantly forth, to discover and discourage the inroads of such Yankee poachers as imagined that a Treaty of Joint Occupancy gave at least an equal right for American hunting and trapping with themselves. As the English lords and their French-Canadian gamekeepers were largely in the majority, the fur company's revenue was immense, and their profits simply enormous.

"In the few months that the Americans held Astoria they bought several hundred thousand dollars' worth of furs. Judge, then, what must have been the gains of this great English corporation, when we are told that a single vessel of that nationality took away a cargo worth nearly a half million of dollars. There is little reason to doubt that during the years that the Northwest and Hudson's Bay Companies traded in the Columbia River region, they secured, no doubt, furs whose value ran up into the tens of millions.

So the Hudson's Bay Company tried to keep its game preserves and head off American emigration. The terrors of the way were detailed and published abroad, together with statements as to the absolute worthlessness of the country. It was a hard road to travel, and nothing to gain when the journey's end was reached. Some Americans were frightened, and were turned back or guided off into California.

The Hudson's Bay Company well knew the value of that vast region--the people of the United States did not. We can hardly realize it now, but the impression, even at the seat of our Government, was that we should not need the territory beyond the Rocky Mountains. When President Jefferson sent out Lewis and Clarke, even his far-sighted vision did not regard their explorations as likely to result in new States for the American Union. He expected only to plant, as he says, if possible "the germ of a great, free, and independent empire on that side of the continent." It might be a friendly rather than a hostile neighbor to the United States. Captain William Sturgis, who had traded along the Northwest coast, used this language in a

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Lecture given in Boston: "Rather than have new States formed beyond the Rocky Mountains, to be added to our present Union, it would be a lesser evil, as far as the Union is concerned, if the unoccupied portion of Oregon Territory should sink into Symme's Hole, leaving the western base of the mountains and the borders of the Pacific Ocean one and the same." Senator Benton, of Missouri, was a western man, and if anywhere in the United States the value of the fur trade should have been known it was in St. Louis, the depot of that traffic and all other trade with the Far West. Yet the grave and well-posted Benton, the father-in-law of "the pathfinder" Fremont, in his oratorical and pompous way says, "the ridge of the Rocky Mountains may be named without offence as presenting a convenient, natural, and everlasting boundary. Along the back of that ridge the western limits of the republic should be drawn, and the statue of the fabled god Terminus should be raised upon its highest peak, never to be thrown down." How strange all this sounds--how blind, how forgetful of the fact that a mountain chain which marks the wall of separation between any two nations engenders strife and bloodshed, while with insensible boundaries the living tides flow naturally together and pleasantly intermingle! The waves of humanity, like those of the ocean, break against an obstacle, but occupy the level without friction. To return to Du Bois's narrative:

"The time was coming which should decide whether the Pacific Northwest should belong to England or to the United States. With such indifference on our part, and with possession mainly on that of the English, it seemed as if it would go into the hands of the enemy. The American emigrants were depending on the fact that they had come to stay, claiming that the trappers were not settlers. Not until England sent those who intended to remain in like manner was her claim good as to occupation. So things stood on a certain day in October, 1842--a day long to be remembered--when Dr. Whitman, having been called to see a patient t Fort Walla Walla, an English trading post twenty five miles from his mission, met a gathering of traders and clerks from various parts of the territory. He was invited to dinner--a memorable feast, for its cost, indirectly at least, the British crown an empire. The whole tone of the jolly conversation about the festive board was of confidence in Eng

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land occupation, Dr. Whitman being the only guest who represented opposing interests. Less than two hundred and fifty Americans had come in so far, and what was that! It was boasted that a treaty was about to be signed between the two countries, giving all this territory to Great Britain. While still at the table a message was received that the first colony of one hundred and fifty had arrived from Canada, and were near Fort Colville. We may imagine the scene. 'The news,' says Barrows, send a thrill of joy along the tables, and carried the excitement of the house to a climax.' A young priest, more ardent than wise, sprang to his feet and exclaimed, 'Hurrah for Oregon! American is too late, and we have the country!'"

Not yet, young enthusiast! there is many a slip 'twixt the cup of expectation and the lip that waits to prove its contents; an obstacle, though all unexpected, shall be found to bar your path, apparently so near and easy, to conquest in the man who sits beside you. He well knew that what England once gained she would retain. It was to be a neck-and-neck race for numerical supremacy. Perhaps the treaty was already signed--perhaps it might be delayed; and, in the mean time, American emigration might be stimulated. Lord Ashburton and Daniel Webster had been framing a treaty, and it might dispose of all this region, equal in size to half-a-dozen Englands. Not a day, not an house was to be lost. Dr. Whitman excused himself, mounted his Cayuse pony, and in two hours, white with foam, it stood before the mission door at Waalatpii. In hurried speech he told of the plans of the British, of the danger to be feared, of the need of apprising the government of the value of the country, and the great loss if it should fall into the hands of a rival nation.

To make these facts known, to postpone action on the treaty, to stimulate emigration, to save the Pacific Northwest to the American Union, Dr. Marcus Whitman resolved to ride to St. Louis, braving perils such as man had never yet faced from hungry beasts and savage Indians, in the depth of a winter whose terrors in these bleak wilds are indescribable. Only this--he would not fail.

"It was hard to leave wife and friends for a journey fraught

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with such hardship and peril. Never before had he faced dangers that might be his death. He thought not of himself but of his country.

"In twenty-four hours from that dinner-table speech, Dr. Whitman was in his saddle and dashing off on the four-thousand-mile trip to Washington. Dr. Amos Lovejoy had consented to go along with him, and with a guide and two pack mules the party set out.

"To avoid some of the winter hardships, it was determined to strike south from Fort Hall, so as to reach the Santa Fe Trail. The greatest danger was from losing their way by reason of snow, and perishing from severe cold. Passing Salt Lake on the right, their course was south and east across the Green River, the head of the Grand River, one of the upper branches of the San Juan, and so on through the most rocky and barren portions of the American continent. Grand River, one third of a mile wide, was frozen except in the middle. It must be crossed; there was neither time nor timber to make a raft. The guide would not go ahead, but Dr. Whitman urged his hose on the ice, swan with him through the dark and chilly water to the ice band on the other side, and came out on the bank with his horse and equipments. His guide and companion followed." (It was the lot--with his friend Kit Carson and a select party of Fremont's old men--of the assistant editor and compiler of this history to raft and finally swim both these rivers in 1848, when the writer lost not only arms and ammunition, but food and clothing in its bitterly cold and treacherous rapids. He can fully verify the dangers even greater than his own, that Dr. Whitman must have encountered, for he barely escaped with his life at a much more favorable season for making the passage.)

"Much time was spent in floundering through the snow, threading rocky canyons, and climbing over craggy heights. Once a heavy storm struck them in the fastnesses of these wild mountains, and for ten days they had to keep sheltered in a gorge. It seemed as if they might be starved as well as frozen. Impatient, thinking of the treaty, Dr. Whitman decided to push on over the divide; but the butting wind, drifting show, and intense cold bewildered the animals; they lost their way, and it seemed as if they would freeze to death in the mountains.

"They struggled on for weeks and months, until they

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Reached the Santa fee trail in the early days of '43. Mr. Lovejoy was nearly dead and had to be left to recover, but Dr. Whitman pressed on to St. Louis. there he was the wonder and admiration of the city. No white man had ever come through those rocky mountains in the dead of winter. A hundred questions were asked him--of the region he had left and the route he traveled; of the feeling of the Indians; as to whether furs and goods were scarce or plentiful. But the Doctor had little interest in these things, and he began to question, 'What about the treaty? Had it been signed? Did it include the Pacific Northwest?' The treaty had been signed august 9th, and on November 10th President Tyler had proclaimed it to be law. But it did not include the region beyond the Rocky Mountains. Yet that was likely to b e traded off. It was rumored that the Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, thought so little of this great section that seemed so inaccessible, and so worthless, that he had offered to trade it for some advantage in a cod fishery."

What American can read this without bated breath, to think how near we were to losing the Pacific States! What Briton, when he remembers what England almost gained and yet so narrowly lost! "the whole of the Northwest was to be handed over literally for C.O.D.; such action might be taken at that session of Congress. Yet the bill would hardly reach the President for signature before adjournment, March 4th. Could Whitman reach Washington before that time? He would make a desperate effort to do so.

"Dr. Whitman was full of his own strong purpose. It seemed to bristle in his stiff iron-gray hair, in his four-months' growth of stubby beard. It seemed to electrify the hairy coverings in which he was dressed, for he was clothed in furs from head to foot. His fingers, ears, nose, and feet had been pinched by Jack Frost; he had little appetite for the dinners to which he had been invited and with which his fellow-citizens sought to honor him. He had fed on mule and dog meat on the mountains; he wanted no luxuries; he would press on to Washington; he would stand before kings and not before mean men; he would, accoutered as he was, go to Secretary Webster and to President Tyler, to senators and representatives, and appeal to them to save the Pacific Northwest to the American Union. He left his horse and took the stage for Washington, arriving there

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March 3d, the day before the end of the session--five months from Washington Territory to Washington City! Whitman's ride was a whole campaign in the face of enemies more appalling then those of the battlefield. To inspire him there was no muse, no host marching shoulder to shoulder, no shouts of admiring comrades to cheer him on. Had he perished there would have been for him no immortality of fame; none but hundred wolves would have officiated at his funeral; his bones would have bleached on the plains, and even the memory of his heroic sacrifice been lost forever.

"Dr. Whitman arrived in Washington but just in time to arouse the nation to the value of the misrepresented Northwest. By the treaty the line of division was to run from the Lake of the Woods along the forty-ninth parallel to the summit of the Rocky Mountains. Beyond that it was not fixed. Webster had wanted to continue it on the same line to the Pacific. England wanted the forty-second parallel beyond the mountains, and, at the very least, the section northwest of the Columbia, with the fine Puget Sound harbors, timbers, and minerals, then the choice hunting ground of the continent.

"Succeeding to the Spanish Claims, we might insist upon taking all of the Pacific Coast up to Alaska. When the nation, aroused through the agitations started by Dr. Whitman and others, was awakened to the value of the region in dispute, claims were made for this entire coast. Senator Benton, who had wanted the god Terminus placed on the Rocky Mountains to make the limit of our western boundaries, now wanted the earth, or a large share of it, for the Union. He had learned its value. The hosts of settlers who had followed Whitman had stirred up the nation on the Oregon question, as it was called. The demand now was for all or none; 'fifty-four-forty or fight' became the rallying cry. This was demanding too much." (The writer here begs to differ with Mr. Du Bois. He believes we should have anticipated the future, and asked even more.) "But it helped along the prospects for a compromise. Secretary Webster wrote to Edward Everett, our Minister to England, 'the United States has never offered any line south of 49, and never will. The ownership of the whole country is very likely to follow the greater settlement and larger amount of population.' He said later, 'It is safe to assert'" (and these words

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Should be inscribed in indelible characters on a tablet of brass) "' that our county owes it to Dr. Whitman and his associate missionaries that all the country west of the Rocky Mountains and south as far as the Columbia River is not owned by England and held by the Hudson's Bay Company.'"

"After giving out facts which could not fail to convince Congress and the administration, Dr. Whitman's work commenced of arousing the American people. The delay was in his favor, said Calhoun, 'Time is acting for us; wit patiently, and all we claim will be ours.' But working was needed as well as waiting. Whitman must work; Calhoun could wait. Dr. Whitman spoke not only to Congress, the Cabinet, and the President, but to the people. He had thousands of circulars printed, which he caused to be distributed from Maine to Mexico. He was as the voice of one crying from the wilderness, and he showed that that wilderness could be made to blossom as the rose.

"' He blew aloud a bugle blast that rang o'er mount and glen; Ere echo died from far and wide there came a thousand men.'

"He had only to give the word for action and name the rendezvous. 'Early in June you will meet me,' was the word he passed along on the Santa Fe Trail as he came riding down from the snow-capped mountains. 'Meet me on the borders in June,' he said, as he flew through the States.

"The missionary board met him coldly, and called him to account for the wild goose chase they thought his to have been."

Strange that these people should have been too blind to perceive the magnitude of his work or the immense results which might be expected to flow out of his self-appointed mission; as it was, "they wounded him in the house of his friends." But he knew too well the importance of his object in the eyes of God and of the nation, and he was not dismayed. Back to the frontier he went, and began gathering his invading army at Westport, Mo. Hardy adventurers were there from all parts of the country. Two hundred wagons fell into lien filled with pioneers and their families. He gathered there the best material that the nation or the world could have given him for the founding of new States. These were the germs of the highest, because American civilization, and of that little army of pioneers Whitman was the general and the leader. His was the influence that

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not only inaugurated their expedition, but advised, guided, and sustained it upon its long and weary march. He ministered to the sick, encouraged the weary and faint-hearted, bound up broken wagons and bones, went ahead to search for wood and water, and corralled the entire party and their animals at night by arranging their wagons ina circle. "Everywhere his knowledge of frontier life and his unbounded energy and resources were made to tell. He permitted no delay, but urged them on--onto the goal of their hopes, the new Washington. At last Fort Hall is reached, and the alarmed fur traders resort to every art of decoy to break up the party. Ahead, they said, were rocks and barrens, or wild forests and savage Indians. The old plan was tried to steer them off to California. Useless to proceed; certainly no sane person would think of taking cattle and wagons down the canyons of the Snake River; but Dr. Whitman's influence was again predominant. Where his old wagon had gone seven years before theirs would go now; where he had met friendly Indians, longing for the Book of Life, they would find friends; where grass grows and water runs cattle would thrive. They need have no fears; he had been there for six years; he had been tried, and they had found him faithful."

Not a man deserted him; not an animal or a wagon was left. On marched this army of possession. Into the promised land they entered, and the Northwest States of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho were saved to the American Union. Just eleven months from the time that the horse of Dr. Whitman had left for the city of Washington, the clatter of those hoofs were heard on his return to what is now the State of Washington. He had aroused our rulers; and, better still, aroused the nation; he had brought with him the vanguard of the army of occupation; he had seen the wave of humanity rise and sweep over the snowy crests and dark defiles of the Rocky Mountains into a land of promise--the first ripple of that might living tide, where erelong should roll a human sea--a new illustration of the philosopher Berkeley's most prophetic line:

"Westward the star of empire takes its way."

Dr. Whitman possessed noble qualities, and, better still, proved to the world that he could well employ these gifts. Of such as he come the heroes who achieve and the martyrs who

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lay down their lives for the principles they profess. In him was embodied the resolute, the most heroic character. His deed was dramatic, almost sublime; the end of his career was even more so; it fitted well with the record of his life of patient and self-sacrifice. For the Master whom he served he valued it not, that he might win souls to Christ, the Savior whom he followed even unto death, and, like Him, was slain by those whom he came to save. The Indians had, in common with the fur traders, the desire to preserve this vast domain for the chase. They did not welcome men who came to own and till the land; they were easily influenced against the missionaries. Dr. Whitman's best skill count not save some Indians sick unto death. The report was circulated that he had poisoned them. Then came the baptism of blood, and the work of Dr. Whitman was done. "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." He had fairly earned an earthly and a heavenly immortality.

Is there any reader who an conclude the perusal of this most eventful history, so dramatic in action, so vital and far-reaching in effect, yet fancy for a moment that we have accorded too large a space to our reproduction of Dr. Du Bois's most thrilling recital of its incidents? No history of Washington could be complete which did not do justice to the man who saved its broad domain from British trickery to give it to the American Union. His work is his monument; but to how many is it known? Ought not the people of Washington, and, most of all, the Methodist of the Northwest, of which church he was so distinguished an ornament, and in whose service he died, to perpetuate the memory of his heroic deeds and virtues by erecting in some park of a city of the Sound, or possibly the capital, as most appropriate, a statue and monument which should bear on one side the encomium of Webster and on the other this, if no better should be found: "Erected by the people of the Northwest (or Washington) to perpetuate the memory of Dr. Marcus Whitman, a Methodist missionary, whose energy, courage, and perseverance preserved this State to the American Union, and emphasized a devotion to duty which he finally sealed with his blood."

 

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