Two Broads Abroad on the Oregon Trail – Whitman Mission, Walla Walla, WA

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By Judy Rickard, author, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, Findhorn Press, 2011

A trek north to Washington was next because my Everest ancestors had done this, Karin and I learned from Everest family history. The Whitmans, missionaries, had preceded my ancestors’ wagon train and had set up Waiilatpu Mission. Since the Everests, like many others, needed help, they went there. By the time the pioneers reached this far west, they were exhausted and often ill. If they survived this long, they had traveled nearly 2,000 miles – most of them on foot. Animals needed rest too. Ox teams that pulled the wagons had to carry nearly 2,000 pounds of supplies – at least at the outset. Though oxen could eat the prairie grass and survive without lots of food for lengthy periods, they suffered from the weather and irregular water supplies. Horses, mules and cattle suffered too on the long overland trek.

I was still – and constantly – marvelling at how this family with nine kids had left England by ship, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, lived in New York, then Ohio, then Iowa, then joined the Oregon Trail pioneers and crossed the plains. It made me exhausted just to think of it!

We learned that this site was originally known as the Waiilatpu Mission, which served from 1836-1847, the second Protestant mission in Oregon Country. It was an early outpost settled by brave pioneers who respnded when explorers and traders brought tales of the western lands to the developed eastern United States. As early as the 1820’s, missionaries began to think about moving west to set up programs. Individuals and the interdenominational American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions began to consider a program in Oregon Country, but were discouraged by its remoteness. After traveling west to explore options with Rev. Samuel Parker, Dr. Marcus Whitman returned east to recruit missionaries while Rev. Parker spent time at Fort Vancouver (in today’s Washington state) before returning east by ship.