Marcus Whitman

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First Presbyterian Church West of the Rockies

Henry Spaulding and Marcus Whitman along with their wives, were Presbyterian missionaries to the Oregon Territory, seeking to win two Indian tribes to Christ. To accomplish that, they established the first Presbyterian Church west of the Rocky Mountains on August 18, 1838.

The Rev. Henry Spaulding was chosen as its pastor, with Dr. Marcus Whitman as its elder.  The charter members were Mrs. Eliza Spaulding, Mrs. Narcissus Whitman, Joseph Maki, Mrs. Mared Keana, and Charles Compo. The only member outside the missionary force was the last one, Charles Compo, who was a convert from Roman Catholicism.  They would add nine new names on September 1, 1838, but again all these new members were missionaries and helpers to the mission station. So for the first decade, its only members were the white Presbyterians and assorted helpers of the missionaries who had come to bring the gospel to these needy people.  In fact, there was nary one soul who came to the Lord Jesus in the first nine years of existence, despite faithful worship services twice on the Lord’s Day, and Bible studies during the week.  After years of faithful sowing of the Word, there were a few Indian names on the roll of membership.  And in 1870, a revival took place within the area which brought many Indians to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

However, in the midst of this time, what has become known as the Whitman Massacre took place in the late fall of 1847. Dr and Mrs Whitman, along with several others, were attacked and killed by the Cayuse Indians.  The reasons were said to be two-fold, if there is ever justification for murder. There was resentment against Dr. Whitman that he was leading more and more white settlers across the Oregon Trail into the Northwest, taking them right by the mission station.  In one wagon train, there were over 1000 settlers. And second, a measles outbreak among their people caught from the many immigrants brought charges against Dr. Whitman that he was responsible for this disease among their Indian children. It was an Indian tradition that if the local “medicine man” could not cure the disease, then he would be physically removed from life.  That tradition became tragic for the Whitman’s.  The site in the state of Washington is today a national monument.

Words to live by:
It is so easy to substitute another purpose in place of our chief purpose in life to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Before we can know it, we can be seeking the things that are of this earth rather than heavenly things.  In hindsight, that is what happened to Dr. Whitman. He became more interested in being a guide to the countless settlers on the Oregon Trail than being a guide to the souls of the Indian tribe to which he had been called.  Let us examine ourselves continually, using natural or spiritual birthdays, anniversaries, or New Year resolutions, to make sure that we are on the Lord’s track first and foremost.

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Missionaries Among the Nez Perce in the Northwest

spaldingHHThis nineteenth century missionary couple has been mentioned before in these pages in connection with Marcus Whitman on February 29 and August 18.  They were Henry Harmon Spalding and his wife Eliza Hart Spalding.  There were a number of “firsts” connected with both of them.  Along with Mrs. Marcus Whitman, they were the first white women to travel on the Oregon Trail. Indeed, they were part of the first wagon train to travel on that famous trail. In the case of Henry and Eliza, theirs was the first white home in what is now Idaho. They brought the first printing press to the Northwest. But our interest in them was of far more importance than simply their being the “first” this or “first” that. They had a heart for the Nez Perce Indian people and their eternal souls.

So after a very long and difficult trip by steamer, horse back, and wagon train, Henry and Eliza arrived at their place of work, settling in a house which they built, on November 29, 1836.  Henry Spalding had unusual success in reaching this Indian tribe. He was able to give them a written script of their language, which enabled him to teach their tribal members. Spalding then translated parts of the Bible, including the entire gospel of Matthew. Leaders of the tribe were baptized, including the father of Chief Joseph, the brilliant military leader of the Nez Perce.

When the Whitmans and twelve of their followers were massacred in 1847, Henry was at that time on his way to meet them. He narrowly escaped in the five days journey back to his home, and eventually took his wife to Oregon City, Oregon to wait for the situation to simmer down. The Board of Missions which had sponsored them, however, decided to abandon the Mission Station.

Eliza would never see the region of the Nez Perce again, except after her death. Sixty years after her death, her body was interred on their land again beside that of her husband.  Henry had ministered in various areas in the “civilized” northwest as a pastor and a commissioner of schools in what later became Oregon, until finally in 1859, he returned with delight back to his beloved Nez Perce. He would stay only a few years before difficulties arrived, and he died in 1874.  He was buried on their land.

Words to live by:  To go into uncharted territory with the Gospel is a worthy goal and takes an unusual kind of Christian. Henry Spalding was just such an individual. He knew his calling and wanted to waste no time in fulfilling it. And fulfill it he did. Along with the Gospel, caring for the souls of the Nez Perce, this missionary couple taught the tribe irrigation laws and the cultivation of the . . . potato!  The next time you go to the store and buy some Idaho potatoes, think of Presbyterian missionary Henry Spalding!

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Missionaries Among the Nez Perce in the Northwest

spaldingHHThis nineteenth century missionary couple has been mentioned before in these pages in connection with Marcus Whitman on February 29 and August 18.  They were Henry Harmon Spalding and his wife Eliza Hart Spalding.  There were a number of “firsts” connected with both of them.  Along with Mrs. Marcus Whitman, they were the first white women to travel on the Oregon Trail. Indeed, they were part of the first wagon train to travel on that famous trail. In the case of Henry and Eliza, theirs was the first white home in what is now Idaho. They brought the first printing press to the Northwest. But our interest in them was of far more importance than simply their being the “first” this or “first” that. They had a heart for the Nez Perce Indian people and their eternal souls.

So after a very long and difficult trip by steamer, horse back, and wagon train, Henry and Eliza arrived at their place of work, settling in a house which they built, on November 29, 1836.  Henry Spalding had unusual success in reaching this Indian tribe. He was able to give them a written script of their language, which enabled him to teach their tribal members. Spalding then translated parts of the Bible, including the entire gospel of Matthew. Leaders of the tribe were baptized, including the father of Chief Joseph, the brilliant military leader of the Nez Perce.

When the Whitmans and twelve of their followers were massacred in 1847, Henry was at that time on his way to meet them. He narrowly escaped in the five days journey back to his home, and eventually took his wife to Oregon City, Oregon to wait for the situation to simmer down. The Board of Missions which had sponsored them, however, decided to abandon the Mission Station.

Eliza would never see the region of the Nez Perce again, except after her death. Sixty years after her death, her body was interred on their land again beside that of her husband.  Henry had ministered in various areas in the “civilized” northwest as a pastor and a commissioner of schools in what later became Oregon, until finally in 1859, he returned with delight back to his beloved Nez Perce. He would stay only a few years before difficulties arrived, and he died in 1874.  He was buried on their land.

Words to live by:  To go into uncharted territory with the Gospel is a worthy goal and takes an unusual kind of Christian. Henry Spalding was just such an individual. He knew his calling and wanted to waste no time in fulfilling it. And fulfill it he did. Along with the Gospel, caring for the souls of the Nez Perce, this missionary couple taught the tribe irrigation laws and the cultivation of the . . . potato!  The next time you go to the store and buy some Idaho potatoes, think of Presbyterian missionary Henry Spalding!

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Missionaries Among the Nez Perce in the Northwest

This nineteenth century missionary couple has been mentioned before in these pages in connection with Marcus Whitman on February 29 and August 18.  They were Henry Harmon Spalding and his wife Eliza Hart Spalding.  There were a number of “firsts” connected with both of them.  Along with Mrs. Marcus Whitman, they were the first white women to travel on the Oregon Trail. Indeed, they were part of the first wagon train to travel on that famous trail. In the case of Henry and Eliza, theirs was the first white home in what is now Idaho. They brought the first printing press to the Northwest. But our interest in them was of far more importance than simply their being the “first” this or “first” that. They had a heart for the Nez Perce Indian people and their eternal souls.

So after a very long and difficult trip by steamer, horse back, and wagon train, Henry and Eliza arrived at their place of work, settling in a house which they built, on November 29, 1836.  Henry Spalding had unusual success in reaching this Indian tribe. He was able to give them a written script of their language, which enabled him to teach their tribal members. Spalding then translated parts of the Bible, including the entire gospel of Matthew. Leaders of the tribe were baptized, including the father of Chief Joseph, the brilliant military leader of the Nez Perce.

When the Whitmans and twelve of their followers were massacred in 1847, Henry was at that time on his way to meet them. He narrowly escaped in the five days journey back to his home, and eventually took his wife to Oregon City, Oregon to wait for the situation to simmer down. The Board of Missions which had sponsored them, however, decided to abandon the Mission Station.

Eliza would never see the region of the Nez Perce again, except after her death. Sixty years after her death, her body was interred on their land again beside that of her husband.  Henry had ministered in various areas in the “civilized” northwest as a pastor and a commissioner of schools in what later became Oregon, until finally in 1859, he returned with delight back to his beloved Nez Perce. He would stay only a few years before difficulties arrived, and he died in 1874.  He was buried on their land.

Words to live by:  To go into uncharted territory with the Gospel is a worthy goal and takes an unusual kind of Christian. Henry Spalding was just such an individual. He knew his calling and wanted to waste no time in fulfilling it. And fulfill it he did. Along with the Gospel, caring for the souls of the Nez Perce, this missionary couple taught the tribe irrigation laws and the cultivation of the . . . potato!  The next time you go to the store and buy some Idaho potatoes, think of Presbyterian missionary Henry Spalding!

Through the Scriptures:  2 Corinthians 10 – 13

Through the Standards:  Instruction for participation in the Lord’s Supper

WLC 172 — “May one who doubts of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation, come to the Lord’s Supper?
A.  One who doubts of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, may have true interest in Christ, through he be not yet assured thereof; and in God’s account has it, if he be duly affected with the apprehension of the want of it, and unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ, and to depart from iniquity: in which case (because promises are made, and this sacrament is appointed, for the relief even of weak and doubting Christians) he is to bewail his unbelief, and labor to have his doubts resolved, and, so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord’s supper, that he may be further strengthened.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:   

First Presbyterian Church West of the Rockies

We have mentioned Henry Spaulding and Marcus Whitman before in this historical devotional on February 29 and June 29.  They, and their wives, were Presbyterian missionaries to the  Oregon Territory, seeking to win two Indian tribes to Christ.  To accomplish that, they established the first Presbyterian Church west of the Rocky Mountains on August 18, 1838.

The Rev. Henry Spaulding was chosen as its pastor, with Dr. Marcus Whitman as its elder.  The charter members were Mrs. Eliza Spaulding, Mrs. Narcissus Whitman, Joseph Maki, Mrs. Mared Keana, and Charles Compo.  The only member outside the missionary force was the last one, Charles Compo, who was a convert from Roman Catholicism.  They would add nine new names on September 1, 1838, but again all these new members were missionaries and helpers to the mission station.  So for the first decade, its only members were the white Presbyterians and assorted helpers of the missionaries who had come to bring the gospel to these needy people.  In fact, there was nary one soul who came to the Lord Jesus in the first nine years of existence, despite faithful worship services twice on the Lord’s Day, and Bible studies during the week.  After years of faithful sowing of the Word, there were a few Indian names on the roll of membership.  And in 1870, a revival took place within the area which brought many Indians to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

However, in the midst of this time, what has become known as the Whitman Massacre took place in the late fall of 1847.  Dr and Mrs Whitman, along with several others, were attacked and killed by the Cayuse Indians.  The reasons were said to be two-fold, if there is ever justification for murder.  There was resentment against Dr. Whitman that he was leading more and more white settlers across the Oregon Trail into the Northwest, taking them right by the mission station.  In one wagon train, there were over 1000 settlers.  And second, a measles outbreak among their people caught from the many immigrants brought charges against Dr. Whitman that he was responsible for this disease among their Indian children.  It was an Indian tradition that if the local “medicine man” could not cure the disease, then he would be physically removed from life.  That tradition became tragic for the Whitman’s.   The site in the state of Washington is today a national monument.

Words to live by:  It is so easy to substitute another purpose in place of our chief purpose in life to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.   Before we can know it, we can be seeking the things that are of this earth rather than heavenly things.  In hindsight,  that is what happened to Dr. Whitman.  He became more interested in being a guide to the countless settlers on the Oregon Trail than being a guide to the souls of the Indian tribe to which he had been called.  Let us examine ourselves continually, using natural or spiritual birthdays, anniversaries, or New Year resolutions, to make sure that we are on the Lord’s track first and foremost.

Through the Scriptures:  Jeremiah 43 – 46

Through the Standards:  Proof texts for Christian liberty:

John 8:36
“So if the Son sets your free, you will be free indeed.” (ESV)

Galatians 5:1
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit to a yoke of slavery.” (ESV)

1 Peter 2:13 – 15
“Be subject for the Lord’s side to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” (ESV);

Hebrews 13:17
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give  an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (ESV)

Image sources:

1. Henry Spalding.

2. Marcus Whitman : The Church at Home and Abroad, March 1896, p. 210. [Portrait of Marcus Whitman : “No likeness from life has been found and none is known to have been in existence except a silhouette, once in the possession of Rev. Samuel Parker, and for which all search has been thus far in vain….The likeness now presented conforms to good recollections of his appearance and his time…His expression was grave, earnest, lighting up pleasantly in conversation; but he was a man of deeds rather than words.”]

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

 A National Historic Site for Presbyterians

We may well wonder whether such a historic site would be  established in the twenty-first century, given our anathema and apathy toward spiritual matters in our land.  But it was set apart in the early part of the twentieth century by none other than the United States Congress and signed by President Franklyn D. Roosevelt on June 29, 1936.  It honored Presbyterian home medical missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, who were martyred for their faith and deeds in 1847 by the very Indian tribe they had gone to evangelize and disciple.  (See August 18 and October 13, for other days regarding their godly faith and deeds.)

The Whitmans had joined the Henry Spaldings (also Presbyterian missionaries with a zeal to win native Indians to Christ) on a trip to the northwest territories.  Accompanying a group of fur traders, they had traveled west across the Continental divide.  The two missionary women were the first white women to do that.  Arriving near present day Walla Walla, Washington, they set up their medical center and mission church.  But growing tensions soon arose due to the presence of Western immigrants, many led by Marcus Whitman himself as “trail boss,” and a measles outbreak, which killed half of the tribe.  Blaming the deaths on the Whitmans, the Cayuse Indians massacred the Whitmans and eleven other people at the mission compound.

The bill signed into law creating the public national site and monument to the Whitman’s has some interesting words for a national historic site.  It reads in part that they “established their Indian missions and school, and ministry to the physical and spiritual needs of the Indians until massacred” by the Indians.

Marcus Whitman saved Oregon for the United States by  developing the Oregon Trail.

Words to Live By: What would you be willing to do for the sake of strangers outside of Christ in undeveloped countries of the world?  Not all of us are called to go, but all of us are to be willing to pray and support  those who are called to spread the unsearchable riches of Christ in these way.  Are you doing so now?  If not, consider beginning today to be “the support staff” of missionaries of the cross at home or in far away places.

Through the Scriptures: Amos 4 – 6

Through the Standards: Proof texts of the first commandment.

Exodus 20:3
“You shall have not other gods before Me.” (NASB)

1 Chronicles 28:9
“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts.” (NASB)

Isaiah 43:10, 11
“‘You are My witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘And My servant whom I have chosen, In order that you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He.  Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me.  I, even I, am the LORD’ And there is no savior besides Me.'” (NASB)

1 Corinthians 8:4 – 6
“Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” (NASB)

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