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A GLIMPSE OF THE VALLEY OF MANY WATERS
ITS SETTLEMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
Twould be difficult to find in all American history a chapter of more
thrilling and romantic interest than that relating to the origin of the permanent settlement of the beautiful Walla Walla valley—the valley of many waters-in the high inland region at the head waters of the Columbia River, just beyond the Rocky Mountains. Here, six hundred or more miles from the Pacific Ocean, “where rain scarcely ever falls," a city of seven thousand inhabitants has, within the last quarter of a century, sprung into healthful and flourishing existence, with substantial business blocks, handsome residences in the midst of flowery grounds, gas and water works, a fine city hall, an opera house, a free library, five flourishing newspapers, two banks, eight large churches, numerous well-sustained public and private schools, all or nearly all the useful industries in active operation, not less than fourteen secret societies, railway communication with other parts of the continent, and a surrounding source of wealth in a large and rapidly developing farming community. We are accustomed in this country to the swift rise of towns and cities in all manner of unexpected places; but the inquiry is none the less active in the human brain as to the particular character of the powers which suddenly transformed this remote and almost inaccessible savage wild, “five months distant from the centers of civilization,” into a smiling and fruitful field. The city of Walla Walla is but twenty-two years old, having been duly incorporated by the Territorial Legislature in January, 1862. Washington Territory itself, it will be remembered, had no separate political existence until 1853. The whole region was Oregon.
So far as the visible work of mankind is concerned, our subject is destitute of antiquity. The oldest house, albeit of logs, is a modern structure. The country is all youth and promise. Yet it has won a prominent page in our national annals through the vast and curious complex of historical forces acting together in its discovery and development. “The events of yesterday, or even those of the last hour," we are sagely taught, “are as much history as if they happened a thousand years ago, and may
VOL. XII.–No. 3.--13
be of infinitely greater scientific importance." There is much in the series of marvels we are about to chronicle worthy of critical study. The beginning was not when, in 1836, the gates of Fort Walla Walla—an old English log trading-post, with two bastions and a stockade-opened to receive a party of tired travelers who had been four months on their western way since crossing the Missouri River. The guiding star of the mission enterprise that Americanized Oregon is as old as the world itself. We have seen in all ages, and in all phases of intellectual unfolding, in all conquests,
and in all new civilizations, the presence and power of the religious principle. It is no new lesson that “the individual who puts forth the greatest efforts for any beneficent purpose of magnitude, and displays the noblest heroism and the loftiest self-sacrifice, is inspired by religion.” The bridal tour that established the great mountain route over the Rocky Mountains, and terminated when the two brides alighted at Fort Walla Walla from the first vehicle that ever crossed the continent on wheels, was the result of the action of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, in deciding to open a Christian mission in Oregon. Rev. Samuel Parker and Dr. Marcus Whitman were sent out in 1835 in the capacity of explorers. Dr. Whitman returned to report what he had seen, to procure an outfit, to marry the lady to whom he had been for some time engaged, and to go forth into the desert wilderness for his great life work. Miss Prentiss, daughter of Judge Prentiss, of Prattsville, N. Y., whom he married, was a handsome blonde of twenty-seven, refined, affable, accomplished, of fine figure and commanding presence, with a deeply sympathetic nature, and a voice of winning sweetness. She was an enthusiast in the cause of educating and christianizing the Indian, and cheerfully bade adieu to home and friends for isolation in a land so far away that its very name con
veyed a sense of loneliness and mystery. She was a member of the village choir (in Cuba, New York), and on the memorable Sabbath morning prior to her final departure, the attempt was made to sing a farewell hymn. One voice after another grew hoarse, trembled, and ceased, until finally hers alone was heard, in clear, unwavering notes:
“ Yes, my native land, I love thee,
All thy scenes, I love them well ;
Now I bid you all farewell." The whole congregation was in tears, while sobs and audible lamentations broke forth at its conclusion from different parts of the church.
Before Dr. Whitman's marriage he had been in search of an associate for this Oregon work, and the American Board had suggested the Rev. H. H. Spalding, who, with his fair young wife, an educated and amiable lady, in very delicate health, was on his way to a mission station among the Osage Indians in Western New York. Dr. Whitman, writes Mr. Barrows, in his recent work on Oregon, “overhauled them on the winter highway, as they were cutting through the crispy and crusty snows in a hybrid vehicle, between wagon and sleigh, and sent forward a hailing call that they were wanted for Oregon. Question and answer between the two carriages soon summed up the case: the journey might require the summers of two years; they could have the convoy of the American Fur Company to the divide'; the Nez Percés, their future parishioners, would meet them as escort for the remainder of the journey; the food would be buffalo, venison, and other game meats; the conveyance would be the saddle, alternating with the feet; the rivers they would swim on horseback; and their housing would be tents, blankets, and stars. Talking back and forth between the sleighs, that were inverted wagons, both parties entered the little backwoods village of Howard and drew rein before the small tavern.” The touching answer of the young bride, who had been seriously ill a short time before, and whom her husband tried to dissuade from voting in the affirmative, was given with great firmness ten minutes after having been left alone for her conclusion: “I have made up my mind for Oregon."
This party of four was joined by Mr. W. H. Gray, agent for the proposed mission, who subsequently wrote the history of the journey and of Oregon. The mishaps and perils, the practical and irrepressible energy of Dr. Whitman in taking his old wagon through for the ladies to ride in; the intrigues, obstacles, and incidents, and the historic scene when the missionaries, kneeling under the American flag, took possession of the western side of the American continent for Christ and the Church, are graphically pictured in the published volume. Mr. Barrows, with all the authorities before him, writes of Mr. Spalding: "He was kicked by a mule, shaken by the ague, stripped by a tornado, not only of his tents but his blankets, and crowded off the ferry by an awkward, uncivilized frontier cow, to which he made a caudal attachment as a life preserver." His discouragements suggested a return, but his feeble wife would bring him to himself by the remark: “I have started for the Rocky Mountains, and I expect to go there." Our daring travelers were not in pursuit of wealth, and they had no hopes of earthly honors. But they faced the great work of Christian civilization firmly, and with high resolves; and, in the results, were largely instru