The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 13

 

By Holice, Pam, and Deb

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

 

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CHAPTER XIII.

THE STORY OF "THE BOOK"--THE INDIANS' LONG JOURNEY TO
SECURE "THE WHITE MAN'S BOOK OF HEAVEN" OPENS THE WAY TO "WHITMAN'S RIDE."

The "White Man's book of Heaven" tells us that "if we cast our bread upon the waters, we shall find it after many days," and truly has this promise been verified in the sequence of events which brought about the heroic ride which saved out Washington of the Union. We are aware that our narrative inverts the time in giving the results in the preceding chapter, since the present must be devoted to the causes which brought about so providential an outcome. To do this, and properly link together the chain of events, we must go back to a period which antedates by a decade the story of "the ride." The year is 1832; the scene is laid upon the upper Columbia River; the occasion a solemn conference of the Flathead Indians. Imagination, with her vivid pencil, depicts the ducky forms as they stand or recline about their council fire; their old men, wise with the experience of many winters, are there; their middle aged warrior, proud of their battle scars; their young men ready to listen to the words of their chiefs; but there is no sign of war--neither plume nor paint to indicate hostility. No such gathering, perhaps, was ever held for such a purpose among the tribes of the Northwest--possibly not of the continent. They had heard a strange story. Far up on Clarke's Fork an American trapper, smoking with some of their people over the twilight camp fire, had told--perhaps in idle mood or, it may be, beneath the influence of the evening hour, coupled with some tender recollection of a far-off Christian home--the story of the cross, of God and His Bible--that book to which the Indian, in his simplicity, straightway gave the name of "the white men's Book of Heaven." What might it not contain! The secrets, perchance, which made the paleface so bold, so warlike, so suc-

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cessful; which gave him so much more of wealth and comfort, even when roaming like themselves. Ah, if they could but find it and secure an interpreter sufficiently wise to expound and reveal its dark sayings! Filled with this thought, they returned to their villages and told the story; and now this gathering about their council fire, held in the long ago, of which we of to-day are the unseen witnesses, is called to evolve some scheme to obtain it. At last a determination is reached, their plan of action settled. They will send a chosen delegation of their warriors upon the long and weary trail across the Shining Mountains till they reach the great village of the whites upon the big river far away. Let us leave our own weaker words and once more avail ourselves of Du Bois's graphic pen. He says:

"In 1832 four Indians, Flathead from the Upper Columbia, arrived in St. Louis, weary and worn by a journey of a thousand leagues. Indians were not rare there, for St. Louis was the headquarters for the Western fur trade on the frontier. But these Indians came not to trade. Far away in their own hunting grounds they had heard from some wandering American trapper of the white man's God, of the happiness of the blessed, of a home eternal. They had heard of danger to those who knew not the words of life as contained ina book which would teach them all they desired to know of God and Heaven. Perhaps they were anxious to secure the secrets of the white man's superior wisdom and strength. At any rate, they longed to know of the religion which the white man possessed, and their motives seem to have been singularly pure and noble. The people consulted together and resolved to learn the secrets of the book, with its wonderful words of life. Two old men were selected--one a chief--and two young braves, joining thereby wisdom and strength for the long expedition. They started, and on they went for hundreds of miles, often weary, hungry, and faint, often surrounded by enemies, but still steadfast in their purpose to bring back the Word of Life to their people.

"Arriving at St. Louis, they no doubt wondered much at the fine buildings and goods, at the hundred of new things on all sides. They sought out General William Clarke, whose name had been given to the river in that far-off land on whose banks

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they were born. To him they spoke of their object; but accustomed as he was to regard Indians merely as trappers and hunters, he does not seem to have cared much about their mission. They sought in vain, it seems, for those who could or would explain to them the secrets of the book. Even the church of St., Louis was given up to ceremonial rather then to religious life. The poor Indians saw much parade and little piety, much of the externals of religion, but little of its vital essence. The two older died at St. Louis. One of the younger contracted disease, the time came to return, this, their farewell address, was given in General Clarke's audience-room:

"'I came to you over a trail of many moons from the setting sun. You were the friend of my fathers, who have all gone the long way. I come with one eye partly opened for more light for my people, who sit in darkness. I 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 empty and broken. The two fathers who came with us, the braves of many winters and wars, we leave asleep here by your great water and wigwam. They were tired in many moons, and their moccasins worn out. My people sent me to get the white man's Book of Heaven. You took me where you allow your women to dance as we do not ours, and the Book was not there; you took me where they worship the Great Spirit with candles, and the book was not there; you showed me the images of good spirits and pictures of the good land beyond, but the book was not among them to tell us the way. I am going back the long, sad trail to my people of the dark land. You make my feet heavy with 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 again sitting in the big council that I did not bring the Book, no word will be spoken by our old men or our young braves. My people will die in darkness, and they will go on the long path to the other hunting-grounds. No white men will go with them, and no white man's Book to make the way plain. I have no more words.'"

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Is not this the realization of the multum in parvo? What strength, what brevity, what simplicity, what incisive directness of speech, and withal how keen and scathing the rebuke it administers. It is the realization of the great traveler, Bayard Taylor's confession "that the bend knee of heathen devotion had oft rebuked his prayerless Christian lips."

"They departed sadly by the first 'fire canoe' which ever made the long trip of twenty-two hundred miles up the Missouri to the mouth of the Yellowstone River. The pathetic speech was heard by a clerk in Genera; Clarke's office, and he wrote an account of their mission and its sad ending to friends in Pittsburg. Confirmation of his report was asked and sent, and the clerk's letter was published. It came to the attention of the American Board of Missions. In 1834 the Methodist Board sent Revs. Jason and Daniel Lee. In 1835 the American Board sent Rev. Samuel Parker and Dr. Marcus Whitman on a tour of inspection. These men met at the American rendezvous on Green river the Nez Perce Indians who had sent their agents to St. Louis remained in the valley of the Columbia until 1836, and returned by way of the Sandwich Islands, but Dr. Whitman saw before him his grand life work, and after looking over the ground, he came back only that he might return fully equipped for the labors that awaited him. He saw the possibilities of rapid development for this broad and beautiful Pacific Northwest, and his prophetic eye already, it may be, beheld the States yet unborn to be added to the American Union. He saw, best of all, in this virgin field an opportunity for the grandest triumphs of the Christian civilization of the nineteenth century. He took back with him to the States two Nez Perce boys as specimens of the people who were waiting for the Book. He went East and he told his story. The presence of the bright Indian boys gave it a more personal and more dramatic interest. His appeal went to the hearts of his hearers, and it was decided that missionaries must be sent to Oregon--that at least two men with their wives should go. They rightly thought that permanent Christian influence could be exerted through the family, with its combination of strength and sympathy, of courage and faith. The missionaries who had to far gone into the wilderness were celibate priests, and their influence, though salutary, stopped

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short of that refinement and purity possible only through the influence of a noble womanhood. The Christianity of the French missionaries had done little to influence the conduct of the French voyageurs, and it could have still less effect upon the Indians. So here we are to come into the presence, not of a Christianity without morals, but on whose very basis is true refinement and solid character."

And now there comes to relieve the tedium of our narrative, if wearying it should be found, a little glimpse of romance, or, perhaps, we should rather call it reality, that reality strongest of all, of a Christian woman's brave endurance of every danger and trial in the cause of duty and devotion to the husband of her love.

"Dr. Whitman's betrothed was ready to do on a wedding journey of thirty-five hundred miles to the Pacific. No woman had ever gone through those wild and rocky mountains fastnesses, no wagon wheel had ever passed through its deep canyons. The Indians had been so incensed by the outrages of brutal white men that they w ere dangerous. Yet Dr. Whitman's bride dared to go. He sought for a comrade, and found one in Rev. H. H. Spaulding, who, like himself, was just married , and on his way as a missionary to the Osage Indians. Whitman literally ran after him, stopped his novel conveyance, half sleigh, half wagon (with a touch of the prairie schooner), and proposed that eh should go with him to the end of the earth (as it then seemed), to a land of silence and of savages. Mr. Spaulding's wife had just recovered from a serious illness, and it seemed that such a long and severe journey would for her be dangerous and possibly fatal. But this devoted young couple took counsel of the Lord, and in ten minutes the young wife, with a cheerful face, said, 'I have made up my mind for Oregon.' The husband warned her, but dared not dissuade; he spoke of the three thousand miles of hard travel, most of it by canoe, in the saddle, or even on foot, with danger on all sides; but the wife answered, 'I am ready, not to be bound only, but also to die on the Rocky Mountains for the name of the Lord Jesus.'"

And here again we step aside to pay our brief tribute to American womanhood--above all to the Christian, wifely, brave, energetic, and never-despairing womanhood of the female pi-

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oneers of our own Northwest. Making the best of the worst situations, calm in the midst of dangers that might appall a man, bringing to their weary journeyings and pine-shaded log-cabin homes a devotion and continual self-sacrifice which purified their own lives, made beautiful their humble abodes, and so entwined their memories with good and gracious deeds that the wives and mothers of our Washington pioneers gone hence to meet their reward, leave behind them, though entombed in forgotten graves, a savor of sweetness as of pressed yet still fragrant flowers--the record of those of whom it may be said they lived not in vain, doing the duty nearest to his hand, and finally passing away hence to meet their mothers "Beloved in life, and sainted in the grave."

To return to Du Bois's narrative: "There were no railroads then toward the West. It was fifteen years before the locomotive found its way to Chicago. At Pittsburg, Catlin, the great Indian traveler, who had explored all the new Northwest, warned them against attempting to take women over the plains and through the steep, dark, and bloody passes of the Rocky Mountains. In every town they passed there were fears expressed as to their fate; but they pressed on to St. Louis, and here amid a mixture of costumes and a jargon of languages they began to realize something of the rough but picturesque life of the great West.

"Under the convoy of the American Fur Company they started early in 1836. Dr. Whitman had roughed it long enough to get on more easily, but the minister had experiences calculated to lower his dignity. He was shaken by the ague, kicked by a mule, his blanket was whisked away by a frisky tornado, and, to take the last bit of starch our of him, he was crowded off a ferry-boat by a cow, who went with him, and to whose tail he clung with the tenacity of desperation until rescued, and yet he was not daunted (not even cowed) in his resolve to push on for the Pacific. June 6th they were at Laramie, and on July 4th they celebrated the nation's natal day in the famous South Pass and on the grand 'divide' of the waters of the continent, whence, within a few hundred yards, flow in opposite directions streams which go, one to the Atlantic and the other to the Pacific Ocean. Here Mr. Spaulding was ill and fainted, but with a cup of water from the stream leading toward the Pacific

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was revived. As that stream went on, joined with others, and in ever-broadening flow made green and fertile the valley of the Columbia, so did the beginning of her influence even here tend to that higher civilization born of unselfish aims and purified ambitions. The little rill of influence from a noble soul joins others, and in their union produces moral and religious freshness and beauty in the world."

Here, in this South Pass, on the anniversary of the birthday of the republic, did these two weak women keep the day, and inscribe their names upon a rock which Fremont "the pathfinder," was to reach in 1842, six yeas afterward, and there discover the trail traversed by this adventurous party.

Having us, as unexpected guests, written their names in nature's register, they proceeded to celebrate the day, for though in the depths of the unbroken wilderness, twenty-four hundred miles from home, their American patriotism remembered its nationality. The missionary party dismounted, raised the Stars and Stripes, sang as did the pilgrims of old, making the forest arches of God's own sanctuary ring to the strain of that music borrowed from the English, but set to better words--"American"--and never, perhaps, was "My country, 'tis of thee."

rendered with more heartfelt enthusiasm, and then, having thus poured forth their souls in song, all knelt about the Book and took solemn possession of the great Northwest in the name of God and the American Union.

"Look," says Du Bois, " on this picture, and then on another--the discovery of the Pacific by Balboa more than three hundred years before. With threatened pomp and formal words and ceremony he take possession of that ocean, its seas and coasts, in behalf of the Spanish crown, and the 'Holy Catholic Church.' It is counted one of the most dramatic incidents of modern history. How different the act of possession we have just depicted! The flag of Spain waved by the steel-clad Balboa over the Pacific was stained and sullied by a thousand deeds of cruelty and crime. Its policy was treachery, its tender mercies terrible, its hate as unrelenting as its lust and greed for gold. Spanish adventurers were everywhere welcomed by the Indians and received as friends; their own base acts turned those

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friends into fiends. They sowed the seeds of murder and outrage more than three centuries ago, and we reap its bloody harvest of hate and retaliation even unto the present hour. Balboa claimed the coast of the Pacific as regions in which to plunder and destroy; but our little Christian band, looking but to conquests of peace, knelt upon the unbroken sod around the Bible that they loved and lifted up their hearts to the God of justice and mercy, seeking His aid and blessing upon their efforts to enlighten the ignorant, to raise the fallen and show to the blinded heathen whom they came to teach a better light and a purer way.

"They had reached the 'big divide;' the larger part of the distance had been traveled, but the worst of the journey was still to come. So far, Dr. Whitman had insisted upon bringing his old wagon. He had been ridiculed about it, but he persisted. The Indians had never seen one. In their alliterative language they named it 'chiek-chiek' when it rattled over the prairie, and 'kai-kash' when it crushed or jolted over the stones; so the full name of the wagon became 'chiek-chiek shani-le-kai-kash.' Dr. Whitman had an object in bringing the wagon beyond that of personal convenience for the wives of the missionaries. Heretofore it had been given out that no wagon could pass through to the Columbia. If no wagons could get through it, it would be very difficult for emigrants to go, and almost impossible to transport household goods or even provisions. But Dr. Whitman's old wagon went on and prepared the way for the long caravans of similar vehicles which in after days were to follow his lead into the valley of the Columbia.

"At Fort Hall the party came upon an outpost of the Hudson's Bay Company, the absorber of the Northwest Company, which found strangers at Astoria (the Astor Fur Company) and 'took them in,' as the whale did Jonah. It was here that this arrogant and all-dominating corporation stood in the gate to bar the advance of progress and say, 'Thus far thou shalt come, and no farther.' It was given out that down into the Snake River Valley no wagon had ever gone. It was dry, rocky, barren, with no lands beyond of the slightest agricultural value. They

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simply state that their policy with the American settler was one of discouragement, which halted at no misstatement, and stooped to the lowest mendacity in the pursuit of its object. Their agents were their soldiers, wandering and nomadic by nature, traveling by command. They suited the Indians, for their tastes, habits, and occupations were similar--they were dwellers in the forest, hunters and fishers like themselves. The Americans, on the contrary, came as settlers, to take up land and improve it. 'No white women were welcomed to the woods. The men lived singly or wedded nominally--nomads like themselves --the natives of the wild; love as laughed at, constantly a mockery, and family ties of any reality unknown. The woods were to remain unbroken, the soil untilled. A beaver-dam was a source of profit, a mill-dam but a disturbance and menace."

Such was the condition of things when out little party reached their post and entered upon their labors in the valley of the Columbia. But mark the sequence of events--the links, slight and apparently trifling in themselves, which in the providence of God untie the careless words of a wandering American trapper, spoken by his camp-fire in those continuous woods

"Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound Save his own dashings.' And the peaceful wresting of an empire from British rule, thereby adding three more states to the azure field of the flag of the American republic.

There are just twelve links in that most important chain--links which required a decade of yeas to forge and bind together: 1. The trapper's tale. 2. The Indian council. 3. The sending for the Book. 4. The failure of the messengers. 5. Their farewell speech. 6. The young clerk's letter. 7. Its publication. 8. Action of the missionary boards. 9. Sending out of Whitman. 10. His "accidental" presence at the British traders' feast. 11. His patriotic and wonderful ride. 12. His arousing of the land, ending in the American occupation of the great Northwest. Do you thin that these were accidents, or like the tokens that He cast upon His billows to cheer the fainting heart of the great discoverer and still the murmurings of his mutinous crew with evidences from the wished-for land? Well hath the poet sung:

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"God moves ina mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps on the sea,
And rides upon the storm."

To which, writing under the inspiration of the facts recorded, the author adds some verses which may not inaptly close the store of the Book:

THE INDIAN SEEKS BUT FAILS TO FIND "THE WHITE MAN'S BOOK OF HEAVEN.'

Perchance they dreamed some magic lay
Within the sacred tome,
Some spell to drive disease away,
Or frighten the fever moan.
To lead at last to hunting-grounds
Beyond the bright blue sky,
Or breathe a blessing o'er the mounds
Where buried kinsmen lie.
They journeyed far the prize to gain,
"The Book" their only quest,
Yet sadly sought the woods again--
None needed their request.
They saw the sacred altars where
Soft lamps lit silver shrine,
Yet 'mid the censer-perfumed air
Found not that Book divine.
The image of our dying Lord
Upon the cruel cross
Touched in their hearts no answering chord,
No sense of grief or loss.
"The Book," and some one to reveal
The secrets it might hold,
To hope with solemn words its deal,
And hidden truths unfold.
In vain they turn with tearful eyes
To tread their homeward trail
Beneath the Western sunset skies
To make their mournful wail.
To say, "'The white man's Book' is dark,
To us a fountain sealed,
We plead, alas! they would not hark,
Nor tell what it concealed.

--BREWERTON.

 

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