History vs. the Whitman saved Oregon story

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The Whitman Saved Oregon Story

Three Essays towards a true history of the Acquisition of the old Oregon Territory (being nearly one-twelfth of all our domain on this continent), which was the longest, the most remarkable — and when truthfully told — the most interesting struggle we have ever made for territory.



Principal of the Wm. E. Gladstone School, Chicago

Member American Historical Association

Cloth 50 cts., Paper 25 cts.

Press of the Blakely Printing Co., Chicago

Copyright, 1902, 1903, 1904
All Rights, Reserved



Page 3. I find that a newspaper sketch of Mr. Harvey W. Scott (on which I depended) was incorrect in stating that he was a native of the old Oregon Territory, whereas he was born in Illinois, in 1838, and with his parents migrated to the old Oregon Territory when a boy of 14; but as all his subsequent education in school and college was in that region with which his life has now been closely identified for more than half a century, he is, for all practical purposes as much of an "Oregonian," as if he had first beheld the light there.

Page 17. Fifteenth line from the bottom, e was omitted after W. It should read, "We felt that," etc.

Page 66. Third line. May 26 should be May 16.

Page 83. Since publishing this book I have learned that Dr. Silas Reed was within a few weeks of 78 years old when he wrote this letter to Prest. L. G. Tyler.

Page 91. Twenty-fifth line, "was" should be changed to "way," so that it will read, "and in every way as worthless historically."

It will be noticed that not one of these trifling "inaccuracies," (which are the only ones yet either discovered by me, or reported to me by the few hostile critics who have attacked the book), has the slightest bearing on any question relating to the Whitman Legend.

If any one discovers any inaccuracy—typographical or otherwise—in any of my writings, I shall be greatly obliged if notice of the same is promptly mailed to me.


August 21, 1905.


A great amount of unexpected work connected with school affairs making it necessary for me to defer the publication of my "History of the Acquisition of the Old Oregon Territory and the Long-Suppressed Evidence About Marcus Whitman" (which I had intended to publish before May 15, 1904) till the autumn of 1904, so that I may have the summer vacation to carefully re-examine all its numerous quotations and compare them with the originals, and to complete a very full index to it, I have decided to issue a limited edition of these three essays, more especially for the information of some writers whose study of the long struggle for nearly one-twelfth of all our domain on this continent has been so exceedingly superficial, that they are willing to accept such aggregations of blunders as Dr. Mowry's "Marcus Whitman," and Rev. Dr. Eells "Reply to Professor Bourne," and Barrows' "Oregon," and Nixon's "How Marcus Whitman Saved Oregon," and Craighead's "Story of Marcus Whitman," as trustworthy historical authorities.

The "Strange Treatment of Original Sources" was published September 3, 1902, in the Daily Oregonian, for many years the leading paper of Oregon, its publication having been arranged for, not by me, but by a prominent citizen of the old Oregon Territory, who desires to have its history correctly written.

Mr. Harvey W. Scott (editor-in-chief of the Oregonian, and first president of the Oregon Historical Society) is a native of the old Oregon Territory, and not only ranks as one of the most brilliant and successful of American newspaper editors, but is beyond all question one of the very best, and probably the best, informed man now living, about the whole history of the old Oregon Territory.

On reading the manuscript of the "Strange Treatment," without solicitation he wrote and put at the head of his editorial page his opinion of it, in the editorial reprinted on page 7 infra.

Several of the topics in the "Strange Treatment" being also treated in the review of Rev. M. Eells' "Reply," it seemed best, when printing these two essays together, to somewhat amplify those topics in the "Strange Treatment" as it was published in the Oregonian, so as to be able to cut out a good deal of the matter in the review of M. Eells' "Reply" as it was originally written, and still have it complete by references to the appropriate pages in the "Strange Treatment."

The discussion of Professor Bourne's paper being a reprint from the electrotype plates of the Transactions of the American Historical Association for 1900, necessarily retains the paging it had in that volume.

My forthcoming book will for the first time give the public a full and connected history of the whole of the struggle for the acquisition of Oregon, as it appears from a very careful study of the original sources, and will have full chapters on the following (and other) topics:

  1. The Governmental Action to Secure Oregon from 1803 to 1872, Being a Full Record of Diplomatic Negotiations with France, Spain, England and Russia; of Congressional Debates, of Congressional Committee Reports and of the Explorations and Reports Thereon of United States Naval and Military Officers and Special Agents.
  2. The Truth About the Discovery of Routes Practicable for and the Development of the First Transcontinental Wagon Road, 1806 to 1846.
  3. The Truth About the Relation of the Hudson's Bay Company to the American Exploration, Occupation and Settlement of the Oregon Territory, as Stated in the Contemporaneous Letters, and Journals, and Reports to the Government, and Books, and Magazine Articles, of Every American—fur trader, scientist, missionary, private explorer or government officer or leader of a party of emigrants—who left any such contemporaneous documents (as far as known) down to the Treaty of 1846. Much of this has never yet been published and much more is difficult of access.
  4. The Long-Suppressed Evidence About the Origin and Purpose of Whitman's Ride.
  5. All the letters Whitman ever wrote making claims that the establishment of his mission and his ride had been of benefit to the nation. Most of this has been heretofore suppressed.
  6. The Long-Suppressed Evidence as to the Rapid Decadence of the Whitman-Spalding-Eells-Walker Mission after 1839–40, and especially after 1843.
  7. The True Causes of the Whitman Massacre, with the Conclusive Proof—some hitherto suppressed and the rest difficult of access—of the total falsity of the accusation that the Hudson's Bay Company and the Catholics instigated or were in any way responsible for that perfectly natural outburst of Indian ferocity.

These chapters will contain all (and much more than all) the evidence which submitted by me in manuscript, as stated on pages 48-51 infra., has convinced every historian who has had the privilege of reading it that the whole Whitman Saved Oregon Story is a delusion, and the additional evidence in these chapters, especially that which has been heretofore suppressed, will prove quite as surprising as to the little interest in the question of a wagon road to Oregon or the political destiny of Oregon displayed by Whitman and all his associates from 1836 to 1843, and as to the true relation of the Hudson's Bay Company to the American exploration, occupation and settlement of Oregon, and as to the decadence of the American Board Mission, and as to the true causes of the Whitman Massacre, as the evidence heretofore submitted proved to be, as to the origin and purpose of Whitman's ride.

As to all the other books, and magazine and newspaper articles advocating the Whitman Saved Oregon Story, they, without exception, are as far from being trustworthy history as are Dr. Mowry's "Marcus Whitman" and Rev. Dr. M. Eells' "Reply," but to expose all their suppressions, and false assumptions, and misquotations, and misstatements would require a thousand pages.

Barrows' "Oregon" and Nixon's "How Marcus Whitman Saved Oregon" have had the widest circulation of any of them, and neither book even alludes to the existence of any of the correspondence of Whitman and his associates with the American Board in 1840-41, which caused the Board to issue its destructive order of February, 1842 (which neither of them either quotes or alludes to), which order was the sole cause of Whitman's ride.

The simplest test of the value of any historical writing is to examine the honesty and accuracy of its quotations and its summaries of documents too long to quote, and any writer who. does not quote accurately and summarize fairly and impartially is wholly unworthy of credence. I have compared every quotation in Barrows' "Oregon," and Nixon's "How Marcus Whitman Saved Oregon," with the book, government document, magazine or newspaper in which it originally appeared, or is alleged to have appeared (for some of the "quotations" are pure fabrications, and never appeared as stated), and in neither book is there so much as one honest quotation on any important disputed point.

On some unimportant disputed, and some important undisputed points, there are fair quotations, but on all the important disputed points the quotations range in unfairness all the way from that device—as disreputable as it is ancient—of quoting accurately up to a certain point, and stopping when the very next succeeding paragraph of the context shows that the impression sought to be created by the part quoted is directly contrary to the facts; or quoting less than a hundred words from an article covering nearly 8,000 words in an English review, and stating that it was defamatory of Oregon and printed to deceive Americans as to its value and so cause them to abandon the whole of it to England, when not only the evident, but the explicitly avowed purpose of the writer was to persuade England that it ought to yield to the American claim as far North as 49°, and make that the northern boundary of Oregon; or quoting only fourteen words from a long article not published in the London Examiner till July 24, 1847 — more than four years after Whitman started back to Oregon — and deliberately antedating it to 1843, and so making it appear to have been published prior to Whitman's arrival in the States, and to have been designed to deceive us as to the value of Oregon, when, as a matter of fact, the very first sentence in the article (the whole of which is easily accessible, being quoted (but without its date) in the "Introduction to the Works of D. Webster," page CXLIX), plainly shows that it was written some time after the treaty of 1846, fixing the boundary of Oregon was made, and that its purpose was to congratulate the English Government for its wisdom in yielding to the American claim and fixing the boundary at 49°, and so avoiding the expenditure of life and treasure, which must have resulted from going to war over a region whose value would not have justified such expenditure; or prefacing the quotation of a single sentence from a long lecture by Captain William Sturgis, or of two brief sentences from a long speech by Senator Thomas H. Benton, by statements directly contrary to the sentiments of the whole of the lecture and the speech; to absolute forgeries (some of them attributed to Daniel Webster), so clumsily executed that their very language shows that they were never uttered by Webster, since, whatever were his failings, he always discussed great public questions in sensible and dignified English, and not in the style of a "sloppy" and sensational newpaper writer.

Presumably, neither Barrows nor Nixon manufactured these forgeries, but when they are so palpably fabricated, surely it is but little less reprehensible for them by quoting them to have endorsed them without any attempt at verifying them, than to have themselves originated them, precisely as there is little moral or legal distinction in the offense of manufacturing counterfeit money or in circulating it, when a mere glance shows to any fairly intelligent person that it is counterfeit, and when its acceptance by the unsuspecting is due to their faith in the knowledge and integrity of the circulator. Craighead's "Story of Marcus Whitman" (published by the "Presbyterian Board of Missions and Sunday School Work," and so put largely into S. S. libraries), is not only as worthless historically as these other books, but is even more objectionable, as its main purpose is to revive the shameful slander that the Catholics and the Hudson's Bay Co. instigated the Whitman Massacre.

From the Daily Oregonian (of Portland, Oregon), September 3, 1902:


"It is well to call attention to the article published to-day on 'The Whitman Myth,' by Principal William I. Marshall of Chicago. This article is a dissection of the pretensions of Dr. W. A, Mowry as an historian, as exhibited in his 'Marcus Whitman and the Early Days of Oregon.' It explodes completely the theory on which the Whitman myth is built—the theory, namely, that Oregon was about to be surrendered to Great Britain; that Whitman undertook his winter ride to prevent that result; that his ride 'saved Oregon'; that he collected and organized the migration of 1843, directed its march and showed it a wagon route over the plains and mountains. It shows how Dr. Mowry, following a preconceived idea and purpose of hero-making, has colored the history by his assumptions and misrepresented it by his suppressions. In this article there is close examination of the original sources of information for ascertainment of the origin and purpose of Whitman's ride; there is a review of the condition of the Oregon question at Washington, with positive proof that the assumption that the Tyler administration was indifferent to Oregon was unfounded, and consequently that Whitman could have exerted no influence to change die policy of the National Government towards Oregon; and, finally, there is demonstration that Whitman's relation towards the great migration of 1843 was slight and practically unimportant Great service is done to the truth of history by this review. It is devotion to truth, not hostility to the memory of Whitman, that prompts the effort to clear this subject of its modern accretions of myth and fable.

"Whitman was but one of our pioneers. He was energetic and adventurous, at times far beyond wisdom or prudence; and to his blindness to real danger, which a wiser man would have avoided, the destruction of himself and of his family was due. He was apotheosized through his fate. Hero worship, stimulated by religious or by ecclesiastical devotion, has created his legend or myth, which in earlier and less critical times would doubtless have passed unchallenged. But in our age written and printed records are preserved, and the mythopeic faculty of the human mdnd receives checks and corrections unknown in the composition of the Homeric poems or portions of the Biblical narratives. But the tendency to hero worship and love of the marvelous will never be wholly eliminated from the mind of man. Before the invention of writing and the use of printing people forgot their actual history—so uninteresting was it—and remembered only the fables they bad built upon it.

"It is not the purpose of the Oregonian to repeat the statements presented in this review, but only to refer the reader to them and to bespeak for them careful examination. This review by no means exhausts the subject. There are Other proofs, but Mr. Marshall, in this article, was dealing only with the methods of Dr. Mowry, which he has subjected to a searching and very complete exposure. Incidentally, a great deal of matter has been presented by this reviewer, in a new form."