This exhilarating news immediately inspired some of the trappers, foremost among
whom was Meek, with a desire to be the first to meet and greet the on-coming caravan;
and especially to salute the two white women who were bold enough to invade a
mountain camp. In a very short time Meek, with half-a-dozen comrades, and ten or a
dozen Nez Perces, were mounted and away, on their self-imposed errand of welcome;
the trappers because they were "spoiling" for a fresh excitement; and the Nez Perces
because the missionaries were bringing them information concerning the powerful and
beneficent Deity of the white men. These latter also were charged with a letter to
Doctor Whitman from his former associate, Mr. Parker.
On the Sweetwater about two days' travel from camp the caravan of the advancing
company was discovered, and the trappers prepared to give them a characteristic
greeting. To prevent mistakes in recognizing them, a white flag was hoisted on one of
their guns, and the word was given to start. Then over the brow of a hill they made their
appearance, riding with that mad speed only an Indian or a trapper can ride, yelling,
whooping, dashing forward with frantic and threatening gestures; their dress, noises,
and motions, all so completely savage that the white men could not have been
distinguished from the red.
The first effect of their onset was what they probably intended. The uninitiated
travelers, including the missionaries, believing they were about to be attacked by
Indians, prepared for defence, nor could be persuaded that the preparation was
unnecessary until the guide pointed out to them the white flag in advance. At the
assurance that the flag betokened friends, apprehension was changed to curiosity and
intense interest. Every movement of the wild brigade became fascinating. On they
came, riding faster and faster, yelling louder and louder, and gesticulating more and
more madly, until, as they met and passed the caravan, they discharged their guns in
one volley over the heads of the company, as a last finishing feu de joie; and suddenly
wheeling rode back to the front as wildly as they had come. Nor could this first brief
display content tile crazy cavalcade. After reaching the front, they rode back and forth,
and around and around the caravan which had returned their salute, showing off their
feats of horsemanship, and the knowing tricks of their horses together; hardly stopping
to exchange questions and answers, but seeming really intoxicated with delight at the
meeting. What strange emotions filled the breasts of the lady missionaries, when they
beheld among whom their lot was cast, may now be faintly outlined by a vivid
imagination, but have never been, perhaps never could be put into words.
The caravan on leaving the settlements had consisted of nineteen laden carts, each
drawn by two mules driven tandem, and one light wagon, belonging to the American
Company; two wagons with two mules to each, belonging to Capt. Stuart; and one light
two-horse wagon, and one four horse freight wagon, belonging to the missionaries.
However, all the wagons had been left behind at Fort Laramie, except those of the
missionaries, and one of Capt. Stuart's; so that the three that remained in the train
when it reached the Sweetwater were alone in the enjoyment of the Nez Perces'
curiosity concerning them; a curiosity which they divided between them and the
domesticated cows and calves belonging to the missionaries: another proof, as they
considered it, of the superior power of the white man's God, who could give to the
whites the ability to tame wild animals to their uses.
But it was towards the two missionary ladies, Mrs. Whitman and Mrs. Spalding, that the
chief interest was directed; an interest that was founded in the Indian mind upon
wonder, admiration, and awe; and in the minds of the trappers upon the powerful
recollections awakened by seeing in their midst two refined Christian women, with the
complexion and dress of their own mothers and sisters. United to this startling effect of
memory, was respect for the religious devotion which had inspired them to undertake
the long and dangerous journey to the Rocky Mountains, and also a sentiment of pity
for what they knew only too well yet remained to be encountered by those delicate
women in the prosecution of their duty.
Mrs. Whitman, who was in fine health, rode the greater part of the journey on
horseback. She was a large, stately, fair-skinned woman, with blue eyes and light
auburn, almost golden hair. Her manners were at once dignified and gracious. She
was, both by nature and education a lady; and had a lady's appreciation of all that was
courteous and refined; yet not without an element of romance and heroism in her
disposition strong enough to have impelled her to undertake a missionary's life in the
Mrs. Spalding was a different type of woman. Talented and refined in her nature, she
was less pleasing in exterior, and less attached to that which was superficially pleasing
in others. But an indifference to outside appearances was in her case only a sign of her
absorption in the work she had taken in hand. She possessed the true missionary spirit,
and the talent to make it useful in an eminent degree; never thinking of herself, or the
impression she made upon others; yet withal very firm and capable of command. Her
health, which was always rather delicate, had suffered much from the fatigue of the
journey, and the constant diet of fresh meat, and meat only, so that she was compelled
at last to abandon horseback exercise, and to keep almost entirely to the light wagon of
As might be expected, the trappers turned from the contemplation of the pale, dark-haired
occupant of the wagon, with all her humility and gentleness, to observe and
admire the more striking figure, and more affably attractive manners of Mrs. Whitman.
Meek, who never lost an opportunity to see and be seen, was seen riding alongside
Mrs. Whitman, answering her curious inquiries, and entertaining her with stories of
Blackfeet battles, and encounters with grizzly bears. Poor lady! could she have looked
into the future about which she was then so curious, she would have turned back
appalled, and have fled with frantic fear to the home of her grieving parents. How could
she then behold in the gay and boastful mountaineer, whose peculiarities of dress and
speech so much diverted her, the very messenger who was to bear to the home of her
girlhood the sickening tale of her bloody sacrifice to savage superstition and revenge?
Yet so had fate decreed it.
When the trappers and Nez Perces had slaked their thirst for excitement by a few
hours' travel in company with the Fur Company's and Missionary's caravan, they gave
at length a parting display of horsemanship, and dashed off on the return trail to carry
to camp the earliest news. It was on their arrival in camp that the Nez Perce and
Flathead village, which had its encampment at the rendezvous ground on Green River,
began to make preparations for the reception of the missionaries. It was then that
Indian finery was in requisition! Then the Indian women combed and braided their long
black hair, tying the plaits with gay-colored ribbons, and the Indian braves tied anew
their streaming scalp-locks, sticking them full of flaunting eagle's plumes, and not
despising a bit of ribbon either. Paint was in demand both for the rider and his horse.
Gay blankets, red and blue, buckskin fringed shirts, worked with beads and porcupine
quills, and handsomely embroidered moccasins, were eagerly sought after. Guns were
cleaned and burnished, and drums and fifes put in tune.
After a day of toilsome preparation all was ready for the grand reception in the camp of
the Nez Perces. Word was at length given that the caravan was in sight. There was a
rush for horses, and in a few moments the Indians were mounted and in line, ready to
charge on the advancing caravan. When the command of the chiefs was given to start,
a simultaneous chorus of yells and whoops burst forth, accompanied by the deafening
din of the war-drum, the discharge of fire-arms, and the clatter of the whole cavalcade,
which was at once in a mad gallop toward the on-coming train. Nor did the yelling,
whooping, drumming, and firing cease until within a few yards of the train.
All this demoniac hub-bub was highly complimentary toward those for whom it was
intended; but an unfortunate ignorance of Indian customs caused the missionaries to
fail in appreciating the honor intended them. Instead of trying to reciprocate the noise
by an attempt at imitating it, the missionary camp was alarmed at the first burst and at
once began to drive in their cattle and prepare for an attack. As the missionary party
was in the rear of the train they succeeded in getting together their loose stock before
the Nez Perces had an opportunity of making themselves known, so that the leaders of
the Fur Company, and Captain Stuart, had the pleasure of a hearty laugh at their
expense, for the fright they had received.
A general shaking of hands followed the abatement of the first surprise, the Indian
women saluting Mrs. Whitman and Mrs. Spalding with a kiss, and the missionaries
were escorted to their camping ground near the Nez Perce encampment. Here the
whole village again formed in line, and a more formal introduction of the missionaries
took place, after which they were permitted to go into camp.
When the intention of the Indians became known, Dr. Whitman, who was the leader of
the missionary party, was boyishly delighted with the reception which had been given
him. His frank, hearty, hopeful nature augured much good from the enthusiasm of the
Indians. If his estimation of the native virtues of the savages was much too high, he
suffered with those whom he caused to suffer for his belief, in the years which followed.
Peace to the ashes of a good man! And honor to his associates, whose hearts were in
the cause they had undertaken of Christianizing the Indians. Two of them still live--one
of whom, Mr. Spalding, has conscientiously labored and deeply suffered for the faith.
Mr. Gray, who was an unmarried man, returned the following year to the States, for a
wife, and settled for a time among the Indians, but finally abandoned the missionary
service, and removed to the Wallamet valley. These five persons constituted the entire
force of teachers who could be induced at that time to devote their lives to the
instruction of the savages in the neighborhood of the Rocky Mountains.
The trappers, and gentlemen of the Fur Company and Captain Stuart, had been
passive but interested spectators of the scene between the Indians and the
missionaries. When the excitement had somewhat subsided, and the various camps
had become settled in their places, the tents of the white ladies were besieged with
visitors, both civilized and savage. These ladies, who were making an endeavor to
acquire a knowledge of the Nez Perce tongue in order to commence their instructions
in the language of the natives, could have made very little progress, had their purpose
been less strong than it was. Mrs. Spalding perhaps succeeded better than Mrs.
Whitman in the difficult study of the Indian dialect. She seemed to attract the natives
about her by the ease and kindness of her manner, especially the native women, who,
seeing she was an invalid, clung to her rather than to her more lofty and self-asserting
On the contrary, the leaders of the American Fur Company, Captain Wyeth and
Captain Stuart, paid Mrs. Whitman the most marked and courteous attentions. She
shone the bright particular star of that Rocky Mountain encampment, softening the
hearts and the manners of all who came within her womanly influence. Not a gentleman
among them but felt her silent command upon him to be his better self while she
remained in his vicinity; not a trapper or camp-keeper but respected the presence of
womanhood and piety. But while the leaders paid court to her, the bashful trappers
contented themselves with promenading before her tent. Should they succeed in
catching her eye, they never failed to touch their beaver skin caps in their most
studiously graceful manner, though that should prove so dubious as to bring a
mischievous smile to the blue eyes of the observant lady.
But our friend Joe Meek did not belong by nature to the bashful brigade. He was not
content with disporting himself in his best trapper's toggery in front of a lady's tent. He
became a not infrequent visitor, and amused Mrs. Whitman with the best of his
mountain adventures, related in his soft, slow, yet smooth and firm utterance, and with
many a merry twinkle of his mirthful dark eyes. In more serious moments he spoke to
her of the future, and of his determination, sometime, to "settle down." When she
inquired if he had fixed upon any spot which in his imagination he could regard as
"home " he replied that he could not content himself to return to civilized life, but
thought that when he gave up "bar fighting and Injun fighting" he should go down to the
Wallamet valley and see what sort of life he could make of it there. How he lived up to
this determination will be seen hereafter.
The missionaries remained at the rendezvous long enough to recruit their own strength
and that of their stock, and to restore to something like health the invalid Mrs. Spalding,
who, on changing her diet to dried meat, which the resident partners were able to
supply her, commenced rapidly to improve. Letters were written and given to Capt.
Wyeth to carry home to the States. The Captain had completed his sale of Fort Hall
and the goods it contained to the Hudson's Bay Company only a short time previous,
and was now about to abandon the effort to establish any enterprise either on the
Columbia or in the Rocky Mountains. He had, however, executed his threat of the year
previous, and punished the bad faith of the Rocky Mountain Company by placing them
in direct competition with the Hudson's Bay Company.
The missionaries now prepared for their journey to the Columbia River. According to
the advice of the mountain-men the heaviest wagon was left at the rendezvous,
together with every heavy article that could be dispensed with. But Dr. Whitman
refused to leave the light wagon, although assured he would never be able to get it to
the Columbia, nor even to the Snake River. The good Doctor had an immense fund of
determination when there was an object to be gained or a principle involved. The only
persons who did not oppose wagon transportation were the Indians. They sympathised
with his determination, and gave him their assistance. The evidences of a different and
higher civilization than they had ever seen were held in great reverence by them. The
wagons, the domestic cattle, especially the cows and calves, were always objects of
great interest with them. Therefore they freely gave their assistance, and a sufficient
number remained behind to help the Doctor, while the main party of both missionaries
and Indians, having bidden the Fur Company and others farewell, proceeded to join the
camp of two Hudson's Bay traders a few miles on their way.
The two traders, whose camp they now joined, were named McLeod and McKay. The latter, Thomas McKay, was the half-breed son of that unfortunate McKay in Mr.
Astor's service, who perished on board the Tonquin, as related in Irving's ASTORIA. He was one of the bravest and most skillful partisans in the employ of the Hudson's
Bay Company. McLeod had met the missionaries at the American rendezvous and
invited them to travel in his company; an offer which they were glad to accept, as it
secured them ample protection and other more trifling benefits, besides some society
other than the Indians.
By dint of great perseverance, Doctor Whitman contrived to keep up with the camp day
after day, though often coming in very late and very weary, until the party arrived at
Fort Hall. At the fort the baggage was again reduced as much as possible; and Doctor
Whitman was compelled by the desertion of his teamster to take off two wheels of his
wagon and transform it into a cart which could be more easily propelled in difficult
places. With this he proceeded as far as the Boise River where the Hudson's Bay
Company had a small fort or trading-post; but here again he was so strongly urged to
relinquish the idea of taking his wagon to the Columbia, that after much discussion he
consented to leave it at Fort Boise until some future time when unencumbered by
goods or passengers he might return for it.
Arrived at the crossing of the Snake River, Mrs. Whitman and Mrs. Spalding were
treated to a new mode of ferriage, which even in their varied experience they had never
before met with. This new ferry was nothing more or less than a raft made of bundles of
bulrushes woven together by grass ropes. Upon this frail flat-boat the passengers were
obliged to stretch themselves at length while an Indian swam across and drew it after
him by a rope. As the waters of the Snake River are rapid and often "dancing mad," it is
easy to conjecture that the ladies were ill at ease on their bulrush ferry.
On went the party from the Snake River through the Grand Ronde to the Blue Mountains. The crossing here was somewhat difficult but accomplished in safety.
The descent from the Blue Mountains on the west side gave the missionaries their first view
of the country they had come to possess, and to civilize and Christianize. That view
was beautiful and grand--as goodly a prospect as longing eyes ever beheld this side of
Canaan. Before them lay a country spread out like a map, with the windings of its rivers
marked by fringes of trees, and its boundaries fixed by mountain ranges above which
towered the snowy peaks of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier. Far away could be
traced the course of the Columbia; and over all the magnificent scene glowed the red
rays of sunset, tinging the distant blue of the mountains until they seemed shrouded in
a veil of violet mist. It were not strange that with the reception given them by the
Indians, and with this bird's-eye view of their adopted country, the hearts of the
missionaries beat high with hope.
The descent from the Blue Mountains brought the party out on the Umatilla River,
where they camped, Mr. McLeod parting company with them at this place to hasten
forward to Fort Walla-Walla, and prepare for their reception. After two more days of
slow and toilsome travel with cattle whose feet were cut and sore from the sharp rocks
of the mountains, the company arrived safely at Walla-Walla fort, on the third of
September. Here they found Mr. McLeod, and Mr. Panbram who had charge of that
Mr. Panbram received the missionary party with every token of respect, and of pleasure
at seeing ladies among them. The kindest attentions were lavished upon them from the
first moment of their arrival, when the ladies were lifted from their horses, to the time of
their departure; the apartments belonging to the fort being assigned to them, and all
that the place afforded of comfortable living placed at their disposal. Here, for the first
time in several months, they enjoyed the luxury of bread--a favor for which the
suffering Mrs. Spalding was especially grateful.
At Walla-Walla the missionaries were informed that they were expected to visit
Vancouver, the head-quarters of the Hudson's Bay Company on the Lower Columbia.
After resting for two days, it was determined to make this visit before selecting places
for mission work among the Indians. Accordingly the party embarked in the company's
boats, for the voyage down the Columbia, which occupied six days, owing to strong
head winds which were encountered at a point on the Lower Columbia, called Cape
Horn. They arrived safely on the eleventh of September, at Vancouver, where they
were again received with the warmest hospitality by the Governor, Dr. John
McLaughlin, and his associates. The change from the privations of wilderness life to
the luxuries of Fort Vancouver was very great indeed, and two weeks passed rapidly
away in the enjoyment of refined society, and all the other elegancies of the highest
At the end of two weeks, Dr. Whitman, Mr. Spalding, and Mr. Gray returned to the
Upper Columbia, leaving the ladies at Fort Vancouver while they determined upon their
several locations in the Indian country. After an absence of several weeks they
returned, having made their selections, and on the third day of November the ladies
once more embarked to ascend the Columbia, to take up their residence in Indian
wigwams while their husbands prepared rude dwellings by the assistance of the
natives. The spot fixed upon by Dr. Whitman for his mission was on the Walla-Walla
River about thirty miles from the fort of that name. It was called Waiilatpu; and the
chosen for his pupils were the Cayuses, a hardy, active, intelligent race, rich in horses
and pasture lands.
Mr. Spalding selected a home on the Clearwater River, among the Nez Perces, of whom we already know so much. His mission was called Lapwai. Mr. Gray went among the Flatheads, an equally friendly tribe; and here we shall leave the missionaries, to return to the Rocky Mountains and the life of the hunter and trapper. At a future date we shall fall in once more with these devoted people and learn what success attended their efforts to Christianize the Indians.