Biography of Rev. Henry Harmon Spalding

REV. H.H. SPALDING. – Rev. Henry Harmon Spalding was born at Prattsburg, New York, November 26, 1803. In early life he was left an orphan, and was brought up by strangers, who gave him almost no school advantages, so that at the age of twenty-one he began the rudiments of English grammar and arithmetic, could read so as to be understood and write after a copy. Having become a Christian, he united with the Presbyterian church of his native place in August, 1826; and between 1825 and 1828 he went to school so much that he was able to teach school. A part of the time he worked for his board and walked three miles to school. In 1828 he gave himself to missionary work, and entered Prattsburg Academy; and by 1831 he was able to enter the junior class – half way through – of Hamilton College, New York. On account of his poverty and the help he received from the education society, he was soon obliged to leave and go to the Western Reserve College, Ohio, from which he graduated in 1833.

On October 12, 1833, he was married to Miss Eliza hart, of Trenton, new York, who was born at Berlin, Connecticut, being the daughter of Captain Levi and Martha hart, and who had been brought up in Ontario county, New York.

In the fall of 1833 he entered lane Theological Seminary, where he remained two years, and in August, 1835, was ordained by the Bath Presbytery of New York, and soon after was appointed by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to the Osage Indians.

In the winter and spring of 1835, Doctor Whitman was hunting for someone to come to Oregon with him as a missionary. After repeated failures, the board mentioned Mr. Spalding to him; and he found Mr. and Mrs. Spalding already on the way to the Osages. After a short consultation and prayer, they determined to come to Oregon.

The trip across the plains was made in 1836 with Doctor Whitman ad wife and Mr. W.H. Gray. It was very severe on Mrs. Spalding, whose health was delicate; and once it was thought she would die. But she rallied and reached Fort Walla Walla September 3, 1836. Having spent a short time at Fort Vancouver, they settled at Lapwai among the Nez Perces, their first home there being in a house made of buffalo skins, where they stayed from November 29th to December 23d, until a log house was built. There they remained until late in 1847. The first Presbyterian church on the Pacific coast, of which he was pastor, was organized August 18, 1838. The first apple trees in Idaho were planted by him in 1837. The first printing on the coast was done at his station in May, 1839.During these years at times the Indians seemed very tractable, and advanced rapidly in civilization and christianity; and at other times they seemed to go backward, and everything was discouraging. Yet it was the testimony of Honorable A.B. McKinley, Commodore Wilkes, Reverend E. Walker and Doctor E. White, first United States Indian Agent, that he was on the whole very successful, more so than any of his co-workers in the Mission. At different times Mr. W.H. Gray, Mr. C. Rogers, Mr. A.T. Smith, Reverend J.S. Griffin and others were associated with him at his station.

When Doctor Whitman was killed in 1847, Mr. Spalding was near Walla Walla, and narrowly escaped; and only after severe suffering, both bodily and mental, did he reach his home a week later. When Governor Ogden in December rescued the captives from the Cayuses and took them to the Willamette, Mr. Spalding and family and several others from his station were also taken, having been protected by the friendly Nez Perces. They arrived at Oregon City December 31, 1847. From that time, until 1859, he waited in the Willamette for an opportunity to return to his work. For a short time he taught school at the Tualatin Plains, but most of the time lived at Calapooia, near where Brownsville now stands. There he was pastor of a church; was school superintendent of Linn county in 1849-50; was territorial commissioner of common schools for Oregon 1850-55; was one of the first trustees of Whitman Seminary, now Whitman College, at Walla Walla, in 1859; and was United States Indian agent 1850-1853.

Mrs. Spalding died at Oregon City, January 7, 1851. She was one of the excellent women, and was especially successful with the Indians; but she never fully recovered from the shock and anxiety occasioned by Doctor Whitman’s death, and the dangers through which her husband and daughter Eliza then passed, the latter having been held a captive by the Cayuses. She left four children; Eliza (Mrs. Warren); Henry H., of Almota, Washington; Martha J. (Mrs. Wigle), of The Dalles, Oregon; and Amelia (Mrs. Brown) of Brownsville, Oregon.

In May, 1853, Mr. Spalding was again married at Hillsboro, Oregon, to Miss Rachel J. Smith, sister-in-law of Rev. J.S. Griffin. She was born in Boston, Massachusetts, January 31, 1808, and came to Oregon in 1852. She survived her husband, and died at Hillsboro April 22, 1880.

The country east of the Cascades having been opened to settlement in 1850, Mr. Spalding returned to that region, but was not allowed to enter the Nez Perce Reservation for two or three years, on account of government interference; so that it was not until 1862 that he fairly began this work again. He was received by the Indians with great joy; but officials changed and interfered; and he was not allowed peaceably to pursue his work until 1871. A part of the intervening time he spent in Eastern Washington, a part at Brownsville, Oregon, and in 1870 went East, returning the next year. During that trip East, he had printed Executive Document No. 37, Forty-first Congress.

In 1871 he went to the Nez Perces, among whom he lived until the time of his death, baptizing 694 of them, and 253 Spokane Indians. He died at Lapwai, Idaho, August 3, 1874, aged nearly seventy-one. Mr. Spalding’s publications consist mainly in many articles to the Missionary Herald of Boston, Massachusetts, 1836-48; in the Oregon American and Evangelical Unionist, in 1848, about the causes of the death of Doctor Whitman; in the San Francisco-Pacific, in 1864, about the early work of the American board on this coast and its results; in the Albany, Oregon, States Rights Democrat, in1866-67, on the same subject; in the Walla Walla Statesman, in 1866-67, about the death of Doctor Whitman; the congressional pamphlet already referred to, which was on these same general subjects, and a reply to one by Father Brouillet on the same subject; also of a hymn book, some elementary instruction books, and a translation of the gospel of Matthew by himself in the Nez Perce language.

It is probably to his influence, more than to any other single cause, that most of the Nez Perce Indians have ever remained friendly to the Whites during many Indian wars, and are now so well civilized.


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

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