The Spalding & Whitman Missions

A brief chronology of the Spalding's & Whitman's in the Northwest.

1820's Missionaries became interested in the Oregon country.
1833 A delegation of western Indians visited St Louis seeking to find the "power" behind the white man. A Methodist publication portrayed the visit as western Indians searching for teacher's and the Bible. While not accurate, the book non the less stirred interest in sending Missionary's west to the Oregon country.
1835 The American Board Commissioners of Foreign Missions (Protestant), dispatched the Rev. Samuel Parker and Dr. Marcus Whitman to Oregon country for the purpose of selecting mission sites. Stopping at a a Fur-trade Rendezvous, the two became convinced that the mission concept was going to work. Whitman turned back to recruit additional workers, Parker continued on to Oregon to explore and locate promising sites for the missions.
  • Dr. Marcus Whitman, with the Rev. Henry Spalding and his wife, Eliza, William Gray, and Narcissa Prentiss moved west by wagon.
  • Dr. Marcus Whitman married Narcissa Prentiss on February 18.
  • Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding were the first white women to travel overland.
  • The party reached the Columbia River on September 1, stopped briefly at Fort Vancouver (HBC HQ), and then returned up the Columbia in search of good locations for the missions. The women stayed on at Fort Vancouver as guests of John McLoughlin (HBC Chief Factor).
1836 Dr. Whitman opened his mission among the Cayuse at Waiilatpu ("place of the people of the rye grass,"). Spalding opened his among the Nez Perce at Lapwai. (about 100 miles apart). At Waiilatpu, a large adobe house, gristmill, sawmill, and blacksmith shop were constructed.
1839 Spalding published the first books in the Northwest on a press brought to Lapwai. Books were printed in the Nez Perce and Spokan tongues.
1840's The emigrants began moving into the Northwest. The mission became an important station on the Oregon Trail.
  • The church Board that had originally dispatched the missionaries, started hearing reports of dissension at the missions. This, combined with a lack of funds prompted the Board to order the Waiilatpu and Lapwai stations closed.
  • Whitman undertook a midwinter overland journey to convince the board to leave the missions open. Whitman was accompanied by Asa Lovejoy.
  • Whitman reaches St. Louis on March 9.
  • The Board, persuaded by Whitman, rescinded its orders.
  • Whitman returned to Oregon with a wagon train serving as physician and guide.
  • Whitman led the first wagon train all the way to the Columbia River on his return journey.
  • Emigrants bring a measles epidemic. The epidemic spread rapidly among the Cayuse, who had no resistance. In a very short time half of the tribe was dead. Whitman's medicine helped white children (who had some resistance) but did nothing for the Indian children. The Cayuse believed they were being poisoned to make way for the emigrants.
  • On November 29, a band of Cayuse Indians attacked the mission killing Marcus Whitman, his wife, the Sager boys (who the Whitman's had taken in as orphans), and nine others. While some at the mission escaped, 50 people, mostly women and children, were taken captive. The captives, with the exception of three children who died of the measles, were ransomed one month later by Peter Skene Ogden of the Hudson's Bay Company. The killings ended the Protestant missions in the Oregon country and started a war against the Cayuse by whites from the Willamette and lower Columbia Valleys.

For further information, you can contact the Whitman Mission at:

Whitman Mission National Historic Site
Route 2, Box 247
Walla Walla WA 99362
Phone 509-522-6360
Fax Line 509-522-6355