The Protestant Wagon Train: Headed West Along The Oregon Trail (Western Christian Historical Romance)
Narcissa and Eliza were the first white women the Indians had ever seen. This part of the journey was long and tedious, covering only 15 miles or so in a good day. Buffalo dung was the only source of fuel for cooking. Despite the hardships, Narcissa seemed to relish the experience. Crossing the plains, the two women often rode in a wagon. The wagon had no springs but they sat on baggage and found it comfortable enough. Approaching the mountains, the trail became rougher.
They rode the rest of the way on horseback, on sidesaddles, sitting with their legs on one side of their horses left foot in a stirrup, right leg resting over a hook on the side of the saddle, shoulders facing forward, spine twisted. With their weight distributed so unevenly, they were at risk of being thrown anytime their horses bolted or jumped to one side. Riding astride would have been more comfortable and more secure but would have been a breach of decorum for women of their backgrounds. The women had a chance to wash their clothes for the first time in months.
Narcissa met some Pawnee Indians. She thought them "noble," and said they had "large, athletic frames, dignified countenances bespeaking an immortale exhistance within" June 27, Sometime during this break, she became pregnant. The two white women created something of a sensation at the gathering of some trappers and traders and large numbers of Flatheads and Nez Perces.
The missionaries parted company with the caravan at Green River and traveled on to the Columbia River with an escort of Nez Perce. The trip soon lost much of its romance. The heat was oppressive, the routine tedious, the diet monotonous. One month earlier Narcissa had exulted about eating buffalo: "I never saw anything like buffalo meat to satisfy hunger. We do not want anything else with it" June 3, Now she complained: "Have been living on fresh meat for two months exclusively.
Am cloyed with it. I do not know how I shall endure this part of the journey" July 23, Breakfast was waiting for them: fresh salmon, potatoes, tea, bread, and butter. Narcissa marveled at the luxury of sitting in a cushioned arm chair for the first time in months. She was charmed by a rooster that perched on a doorsill and crowed, in apparent welcome. Under the leadership of Dr. John McLoughlin -- whose title was Chief Factor -- the fort had become a bustling commercial center and supply depot. Its orchards, fields, and pastures stretched for 15 miles along the Columbia and five miles inland.
Inside the central stockade were some 40 buildings, including warehouses, a school, a library, a chapel, a rudimentary hospital, and housing for British officers and company officials. Outside was a multicultural village with inhabitants from more than 35 different ethnic and tribal groups. By the time they reached Fort Vancouver, Whitman and Spalding had made up their minds to establish separate missions. Narcissa and Eliza spent almost eight weeks at the fort while their husbands looked for locations.
Whitman settled on a place about miles away, amid the Cayuse at Waiilatpu, or "Place of the Rye Grass. Whitman ignored the warning. He and Narcissa who was by then heavily pregnant moved into a crude cabin at Waiilatpu in mid-December. There was a wood floor and a fireplace but no windows and only a blanket to cover the door.
Arriving at a time when food was scarce, they had to kill and eat 10 wild horses that winter to survive. Narcissa gave birth in that cabin to her only child, on the evening of March 14, , her own 29th birthday. Named Alice Clarissa after her grandmothers, the child was the first to be born of American parents in what is now Washington state. Tiloukaikt, a "kind, friendly Indian" and a headman of the band that wintered near the mission, pronounced the child a "Cayuse te-mi" Cayuse girl because she was born on Cayuse land.
She yearned for the company of other white women but she disliked the four who arrived, with their husbands, on assignment from the American Board in They were not like the "warm-hearted revival Christians" she had grown up with. She felt more comfortable with the Methodists who had established missions in the Willamette Valley, but she was rarely able to see them. She never attempted to establish friendships with Native women. She found it hard to reconcile the reality of the life she was living with the one she had envisioned, back in Prattsburg. She had imagined herself living among attentive, well-behaved "dear heathen" who would be eager to master the finer points of Congregational-Presbyterian doctrine, undergo spiritual conversion, take up farming, and adopt the customs and behavior of upright Christians like herself.
She was repelled by the Indians she actually encountered. She thought they were dirty, lazy, and sinful. They ignored her standards of privacy and cleanliness. They were "savages" and she was "alone. Much of the conflict centered on the issue of property. Accustomed to free access to one another's lodges, the Cayuse resented Narcissa's effort to keep them out of her house. They were used to dealing with whites at trading posts; they expected the missionaries to provide the same kind of material goods that the traders had. To Narcissa, they seemed avaricious, always demanding handouts.
Both she and Whitman were outraged when a headman named Umtippe said the mission was on his land and they should pay him for it in keeping with white notions about property. As historian Julie Roy Jeffrey has pointed out, the Cayuse had adopted some aspects of white culture by the time the Whitmans arrived. A few wore articles of European clothing and raised cattle as well as horses.
They enjoyed hearing stories from the Old Testament. But their cultural borrowing was selective, and they had no interest in jettisoning their entire way of life. Narcissa never learned the native language and she found it frustrating that so few Cayuse spoke English. Nonetheless, she managed to communicate her contempt for them very effectively. In turn, they thought her haughty and proud.
In contrast to her mother, young Alice Clarissa quickly picked up Nez Perce, the primary language of the Cayuse. They appear to love her much" September 18, By age 2, the child was fluent in both English and Nez Perce. She might have served as a bond, to help mediate the relationship between the missionaries and their hosts. But on June 23, , at the age of 2 years, three months, and nine days, she toddled into the river behind the mission house at Waiilatpu and drowned.
Narcissa had been a doting and anxious mother. Lacking friends, separated from her family, with a husband who was often called away from the mission for weeks at a time, her daughter was "the joy and comfort" of her "lonely situation" September 30, She hardly let the child out of her arms until she was almost a year old.
She slept with her until just a week before she drowned, when Clarissa asked for a bed of her own. Narcissa reluctantly agreed but put the bed right next to her own, so that she could reach out and touch her at any time. She was overcome with grief and guilt when her daughter died. She sank into almost suicidal depression, retreating into illness and rarely leaving her room. She wondered if God was punishing her because she had loved the child too much. Eventually, she decided that "the Lord saw fit to take her from us" because "most of my time should be spent in teaching school" -- and she could not do that without neglecting Clarissa and having her "exposed to the contaminating influence of heathenism" Letters , April 30, She compensated by taking in foster children, beginning with three children of mixed Indian and European heritage and finally, in , the seven orphaned children of Henry and Naomi Sager, emigrants who had died on the Oregon Trail.
She kept all the children away from the Cayuse and did not allow any of them to speak a word of Nez Perce. When the Whitmans moved into a large, T-shaped mission house in late , Narcissa said Indians could enter through only one door and use only one room, called "Indian Hall.
Emotionally and physically, Narcissa redefined her role in a way that cut her off from nearly all contact with the Cayuse. The missionaries set aside their quarrels long enough to agree that Whitman should leave immediately for Boston and try to persuade the board to change its mind. Whitman was gone for a year. Narcissa left Waiilatpu three days after he did, saying an Indian had tried to break into her room one night and only her alertness and the grace of God had "delivered me from the hand of a savage man" October 7, Cathy Gillen Thacker.
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Holm, Adam Gustavson Ages 8—10 May Amelia 12 lives on a farm in Washington state in with her parents, Finnish immigrants, and seven brothers.
The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman
A salting of Finnish phrases and accurate historical details spice up this historical fiction, a sequel to Our Only May Amelia. Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L.
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