Indian Missions of the Columbia Region

Through the influence of Catholic Caughnawaga and of some of the employees of the Hudson’s Bay Co., many individuals among the tribes of the Columbia River, particularly Flatheads and Nez Percé, had adopted the principles and ceremonials of the Christian religion as early as 1820, leading later to the request for missionaries, as already noted. The first mission of the Columbia region was established in 1834 by a party tinder Rev. Jason Lee, for the Methodists, on the east side of the Willamette at French Prairie, about the present Oregon City, Oregon. In 1840 it was removed to Chemeketa, 10 miles farther up the river. Other stations were established later at The Dalles of the Columbia, Oregon, by Revs. Lee and Perkins, in 1838; near Pt Adams, at the mouth of the Columbia, Oregon, by Rev. J. H. Frost, in 1841; and at Ft Nisqually on Puget Sound, Washington, by Rev. J. P. Richmond in 1842. The tribes most directly concerned at the four stations, respectively, were the Kalapuya, Wasco, Clatsop, and Nisqualli, all in process of swift decline. For various reasons no success attended the project. The children in the schools sickened and died; one missionary after an other resigned and went home; and Lee, as superintendent in charge, so far neglected his duties that in 1844 he was deposed and the church board, after investigation, ordered the discontinuance of the work, which had already cost a quarter of a million dollars. The Dalles station was bought by the Presbyterians, who now entered the same field (see Bancroft, Hist. Oregon., i, 1886).

In the fall of 1836 the Presbyterians, under the leadership of Rev. Marcus Whitman, established their first mission in the Columbia region at Waiilatpu, now Whitman, on Walla Walla River, south east Washington, in territory claimed by the Cayuse tribe. The site had been selected by an advance agent, Rev. Samuel Parker, a few months earlier. Rev. H. H. Spalding, of the same party, about the same time, established a mission among the Nez Percé at Lapwai, on Clearwater River, a few miles above the present Lewiston, Idaho. Early in 1839 a second station was begun among the Nez Percé at Kamiah, higher up the Clearwater, but was discontinued in 1841. Revs. E. Walker and C. C. Eells established themselves at Chemakane, north east Washington, on a lower branch of Spokane River, among the Spokan.

The Spokane, whose chief had been educated among the whites, proved friendly, but from the very beginning the Cayuse and a considerable portion of the Nez Percé maintained an insulting and hostile attitude, the Cayuse particularly claiming that the missionaries were intruders upon their lands and were in league with the immigrants to dispossess the Indians entirely. In consequence the Kamiah station was soon abandoned. At Waiilatpu, the main station, Whitman was more than once in danger of personal assault, the irritation of the Indians constantly growing as the flood of immigrants increased. In consequence of the continued opposition of the Cayuse and the Nez Percé, the mission board in 1842 ordered the abandonment of all the stations but Chemakane. Whitman then crossed the mountains to New York to intercede for his mission, with some degree of success, returning the next year to find his wife a refugee at one of the lower settlements, in consequence of the burning of a part of the mission property by the Cayuse, who were restrained from open war only by the attitude of the Government agent and the Hudson’s Bay Co.’s officers. In the summer of 1847 the Cayuse and neighboring tribes were wasted by an epidemic of measles and fever communicated by passing immigrant trains, all of which made Waiilatpu a stopping point. Two hundred of the Cayuse died within a few weeks, while of the Nez Percé the principal chief and 60 of his men fell victims. A rumor spread among the Cayuse that Whitman had brought back the disease poison from the east and unloosed it for their destruction. The danger became so imminent that, actuated partly also by the opposition of the mission board, he decided to abandon Waiilatpu and remove to the former Methodist station at The Dalles, which he had already bought for his own denomination. At the same time he began negotiations with the Catholics for their purchase of Waiilatpu. Before the removal could be made, however, the blow fell. On Nov. 29, 1847, the Cayuse attacked Waiilatpu mission, killed Dr and Mrs. Whitman and 7 others and plundered the mission property. Within a few days thereafter, before the Indians dispersed to their camps, 4 others of the mission force were killed, making 13 murdered, besides 2 children who died of neglect, or 15 persons in all. The rest, chiefly women, were carried off as prisoners and subjected to abuse until rescued by the effort of the Hudson’s Bay Co., a month later. The Catholic Bishop Brouillet, who was on his way from below to confer with Whitman about the sale of the mission property, was one of the first to learn of the massacre, and hastening forward was allowed to bury the dead and then found opportunity to send warning to the Lapwai mission in time for Spalding and his party to make their escape, some of them being sheltered by friendly Nez Percé, although the mission buildings were plundered by the hostiles. The Spokan chief, Garry, remained faithful and gave the people at Chemakane mission a bodyguard for their protection until the danger was past. As a result of the Indian war which followed the Presbyterian missions in the Columbia region were abandoned. During the brief period that the station at Kamiah had continued, the missionary Rev. Asa Smith had “reduced the Nez Percé dialect to grammatical rules.” In 1839 the Lapwai mission received a small printing outfit with which Spalding and his assistants printed small primers, hymns, and portions of scripture in the language of the tribe by the aid of native interpreters. A Spokane primer of 1842, the joint work of Walker and Fells, is said to have been the third book printed in the Columbia River region.

As we have seen, the first Christian teaching among the tribes of the Columbia region had come from the Catholic employees of the Hudson’s Flay Co., through whose efforts many of the Nez Percé, Flatheads, and others had voluntarily adopted the Christian forms as early as 1820, and some years later sent delegates to St Louis to stake requests for missionaries, to which the Methodists were first to respond. In 1838 Father Francis Blanchet and Modeste Demers arrived at Ft Vancouver, Washington, on the Columbia, from Montreal, to minister’ particularly to the French employees of the Hudson’s Bay Co., having visited the various tribes farther up along the river en route. In the next year St Francis Xavier mission was established by Blanchet on the Cowlitz, in west Washington, and St Paul mission at the French settlement on the lower Willamette, at Chainpoeg, Oregon, while Father J. B. Bolduc, afterward the pioneer missionary on Vancouver Island, began. preaching to the tribes on Puget sound. In 1841 the Jesuit de Smet had founded the mission of St Mary among the Flatheads in west Montana (see Interior States), while a companion Jesuit, Father Nicholas Point, established the Sacred Heart mission among the Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho.

In 1844 de Smet brought out from Europe a number of Jesuits and several sisters of the order of Notre Dame. Regular schools were started and the tribes on both sides of the river as far up as the present Canadian boundary were included within the scope of the work. In the meantime Blanchet had been made archbishop of the Columbia territory and had brought out from Quebec 21 additional recruits—Jesuits, secular priests, and sisters—with which reinforcements 6 other missions were founded in rapid succession, viz: St Ignatius, St Francis Borgia, and St Francis Regis, in Washington, among the Upper Pend d’Oreilles, Lower Pend d’Oreilles, and Colvilles, respectively, with 3 others across the line in British Columbia. Of these the first named was the principal station, in charge of the Jesuit Fathers De Vos and Accolti. In the summer of 1847 Father N. C. Pandosy and 3 others, the first Oblate fathers in this region, established a mission at Ahtanam among the Yakima in east Washington; Father Pascal Ricard, Oblate, founded St Joseph on the Sound near the present Olympia; and in October of the same year, after some negotiation for the purchase of the Presbyterian establishment under Whitman at Waiilatpu, Father John Brouillet arrived to start a mission among the Cayuse. Hardly had he reached the nearest camp, however, when the news came of the terrible Whitman massacre, and Bronillet was just in time to bury the dead and send warning to the outlying stations, as already detailed. The project of a mission among the Cayuse was in consequence abandoned. In the next year the secular Fathers Rousseau and Mesplee founded a station among the Wasco, at The Dalles of Columbia River, Oregon. Work was attempted among the degenerate Chinook in 1851, but with little result. Father E. C. Chirouse, best known for his later successful work at Tulalip school, began his labors among the tribes of Puget Sound and the lower Columbia about the same period. With the exception of the Wasco and Chinook, these missions, or their successors, are still in existence, numbering among their adherents the majority of the Christian Indians of Washington and south Idaho. At the Tulalip school ‘The Youth’s Companion,’ a small journal in the Indian language, set up and printed by the Indian boys, was begun in 1881 and con-ducted for some years. Father Louis Saintonge, for some years with the Yakima and Tulalip missions, is the author of several important linguistic contributions to the Chinook jargon and the Yakima language. Father Pandosy also is the author of a brief ‘Grammar and Dictionary’ of the Yakima.

History, Missions,

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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