*Includes excerpts of contemporary accounts
*Includes a bibliography for further reading
*Includes a table of contents
At the start of the 1840s, the Oregon Country had no political boundaries or effective government. The only administrative organization in the territory was the Hudson’s Bay Company, which applied only to British subjects, and aside from natives, the region was populated by a handful of independent traders, hunters, and prospectors, as well as those employed in the various company depots.
The first to begin showing up in large numbers were missionaries. The native populations were by then diminished by disease and dispirited, which meant they were more receptive to missionary aid and the Christian message. Christianity, of course, was not entirely unknown among the indigenous populations, given that marriages between white men and Indian women created a hybrid of “folk” Christianity that was commonly observed among the Indians. The first wave of missionaries represented the American Methodists, arriving in or around 1834, followed a year or two later by a second series of arrivals, sponsored this time by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). The ABCFM was an ecumenical organization founded to promote the general outreach of the Presbyterian and Dutch Reform churches in the United States. Roman Catholics arrived around 1830, bringing missionaries mostly from Canada and Europe.
Most wives and children remained in the East while men rolled the dice to seek fortunes in the Pacific region. However, religious movements committed to denominational migrations eventually found their way into the western plains through faintly-established routes, leading to the eventual settling of Utah. Before such western societies took root, the Pacific Northwest remained a dark void in the agendas of missionary organizations. Most were of the general mind that to convert the Nez Percé and Cayuse tribes of the Columbia River Plateau to Christianity was a hopeless venture. However, a few aspiring Protestant missionaries persisted in the belief that conversion of the unknown residents of modern-day Washington State and Oregon could be accomplished. Eventually, they received their opportunity to try, but no sponsoring organization would permit either an unmarried man or woman to attempt the journey or the project. Romanism, with its abstinent clergy, had captured much of southern California through its Mexican roots, and in a competitive framework, time was of the essence in the north. Through a fevered race against the Papacy to secure new western territory, Narcissa Prentiss Whitman became the first white women to cross the Rocky Mountains, and to settle in what is today the Walla Walla Valley of southeastern Washington State. A teacher and missionary, she accomplished the journey with her likeminded husband, Dr. Marcus Whitman. Their history-making tenure in the northwestern wilderness caused them to become one of the most well-known couples of the 19th century, and their story was soon known to the entire nation.
Narcissa Whitman: The Life and Legacy of the Missionary Killed by Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest profiles the woman at the center of one of the West’s most notorious events. Along with pictures depicting important people, places, and events, you will learn about Narcissa Whitman like never before.