Biography of Rev. Cushing Eels, D. D.

REV. CUSHING EELS, D.D. – Dr. Eells was born at Blandford, Massachusetts, February 16, 1810, and was the son of Joseph and Elizabeth (Warner) Eells. He was descended from Samuel Eells, who was a major in Cromwell’s army, and who came to America in 1661.

Cushing Eells was brought up at Blandford, became a Christian when fifteen years old, prepared for college at Monson Academy, Massachusetts, entered Williams College in 1830, and graduated four years later. The distance from his home to college was forty-five miles. Twice he rode the entire distance, – when he entered and after he graduated, – twice from one-half to two-thirds of the way; and the rest of the trips he walked too poor to pay his way. Three years later he graduated from East Windsor Theological Seminary, of Connecticut (now at Hartford), and was ordained at Blandford, Massachusetts, October 25, 1837, as a Congregational minister.

While teaching school at Holden, Massachusetts, he became acquainted with Miss Myra Fairbank, to whom he was afterwards married. She was the daughter of Dea. Joshua, and Mrs. Sally Fairbank, and was born at Holden, Massachusetts, May 26, 1805. It is said that both on her father’s and mother’s sides she was pure Yankee. She made a profession of religion when thirteen years old, and at the celebration of her seventieth birthday said that she had never been sorry that she had begun to serve the Savior when so young.

When Doctor Eels first offered himself as a missionary to the American board of commissioners for foreign missions, he was appointed to the Zulu mission of Africa. Afterwards, when Doctor Whitman and others had come to Oregon, the call for missionaries to the Indians on this coast became so urgent that the board decided to send him to this region. Doctor Eels and Miss Fairbank were married at Holden, March 5, 1838. On the next day they started on their bridal tour across the continent, and about a year later began housekeeping near the Spokane river, ready to receive callers.

Only two women, Mrs. M. Whitman, and Mrs. H.H Spalding, had ever made the trip before, – in 1836. Reverend E. Walker, Reverend A.B. Smith, Mr. W.H. Gray and their wives, and Mr. C. Rogers, were the missionary companions of Doctor and Mrs. Eells; and most of the trip from Missouri was made on horseback. They were under the protection of the American Fur Company to the Rocky Mountains, and of the Hudson’s Bay Company from that place to Walla Walla, where they arrived August 29, 1838. That winter was spent at Doctor Whitman’s station at Walla; but the next spring, with Doctor Walker and his wife, who were their associates until 1848, they went to their mission station among the Spokane Indians, Tshimakin, at Walker’s Prairie, in what is now Spokane county, Washington.

Here they remained until 1848, after the massacre of Doctor Whitman. Doctor Eels taught a small school a part of the time, besides preaching and doing general missionary work. The results as they appeared at that time were not satisfactory; but thirty-five years later it was plain that the seed then sowed had grown, until two churches of one hundred and twenty-seven members were the result; while during the Cayuse and Yakima wars the tribe remained friendly to the Whites, although strongly urged by the hostiles to join them. Owing, however to the fact that the government of Oregon could not protect them in that region after the Cayuse war, they moved to the Willamette valley in the summer of 1848, under an escort of sixty Oregon volunteers commanded by Major J. Magone.

They spent four weeks on the Abiqua, when they both engaged to teach in the Oregon Institute at Salem, now the Willamette University. The next year they accepted a request to teach in what was beginning to be Tualatin Academy at Forest Grove. Here they remained until August, 1851, when they removed to near Hillsboro, where Doctor Eels taught the Washington Select School about four years, and other schools in the region until 1857, preaching also a considerable part of the time, when he returned to Forest Grove, as principal of Tualatin Academy. Three years were thus spent; when, the country east of the Cascade Mountains being open for settlement, he went to Walla Walla, moving his family there in 1862, and laid plans for beginning Whitman Seminary, in memory of his colaborer, Doctor M. Whitman, which has since grown into Whitman College. It was not, however, until 1866 that the first building was completed and the school fairly begun. Since that time he has labored for it as he has been able. He has been president of its board of trustees since the charter was granted in 1859; he taught in it as principal for about two and a half years; he has given to it nearly ten thousand dollars; he spent about a year in the East in 1883 – 84 in its behalf, – his first and only trip East since he came to this coast, – when he was the means of securing about twelve thousand dollars for it; and he lived till, in 1888, it celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his arrival in the territory.

In 1872 his house at Walla Walla was burned; and he moved to the home of his eldest son, Indian agent at Skokomish, on Puget Sound. He remained there for nearly two years; when he again visited the Indians and White of Eastern Washington, devoting his time mainly to ministerial work.

Mrs. Eels died at Skokomish August 9, 1878, aged seventy-three years, and was buried at Seattle. After her death Doctor Eels spent most of his time in Eastern Washington, living at different times at Colfax, Cheney and Medical Lake until 1888, when he felt too old to longer endure the hardships of the work, and has since resided with his oldest son, Indian agent on the Puyallup Reservation near Tacoma.

He assisted in the organization of the Congregational church at Skokomish in 1874, of which he was pastor for nearly two years; organized the one at Colfax in 1877, of which he was pastor for four years; also that at Chawelah in 1879, of which he was pastor for about nine years; that at Medical lake in 1883, of which he was pastor for five years; that at Sprague in 1882, of which he was pastor for about two years; aided in organizing that at Cheney in 1881 and acted as its pastor for three years; and also preached at many other stations in Eastern Washington. To the churches of Walla Walla, Colfax, Dayton, Cheney, Sprague, Lone Pine, Spokane Falls, Olympia, Washington Territory, and Forest Grove, Oregon, it is known that he had given previous to July, 1887, $6,877.55. In addition to what he has given to Whitman College, Mrs. Eells laid the foundation of a professorship in Pacific University, which with accumulated interest now amounts to about three thousand dollars. Doctor Eels and wife have also given various missionary societies nearly four thousand dollars. He received the degree of D.D. from Pacific University, and was chosen assistant moderator of the National Congregational Council at Concord, New Hampshire, in 1883.

He has two children, Honorable Edwin Eels who has been United States Indian agent on Puget Sound since 1871, and Reverend Myron Eells, missionary at Skokomish, Washington, since 1874.


History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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