Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 6/Reviews (Number 2)
In the Beginning. A Sketch of Some Early Events in Western Washington while it was still a part of "Old Oregon." By . (Seattle: Lowman and Hanford. 1905. Paper, pp. 90.)
The author of this sketch has certainly used to excellent advantage his privilege of delving "at will among the records and correspondence of the early days at old Fort Nisqually, the earliest white man's home in what is now Western Washington. "He has examined a rich collection of historical sources with a mind unprejudiced, but clear and well-filled through previous wide reading of the sources of history connected with the beginnings of the Sound country.
Among the many vital matters his comment touches and illuminates special mention may be made of the results of the early protestant missionary activities in the Pacific Northwest, the development of the cattle and sheep industries on the prairie country tributary to the old Fort, the conditions under which the manufacture of shingles was begun, the planting of the first permanent American community in that quarter, and the relations between these pioneers and the officials in charge of the Hudson Bay Company's interests.
Mr. Bagley in the kindest manner possible exposes the utter failure of the protestant missionaries as such that is. the futility of their efforts to accomplish directly the conversion of any considerable number of the Indians of the Pacific Northwest. His sweeping statement on this matter is, however, open to criticism when applied to the missionary activity among the Nez Perces. Mr. Bagley attributes the discomfiture of the protestant missionaries to two chief causes:
The Catholic brethren who started a keen competition with them used the more objective methods better calculated to get an immediate hold upon the Indian's thought. The "black gowns "with their pictorial "ladders," handled with highest pedagogical skill, represented the expert efficiency of centuries of experience with the aboriginal American. The protestants could not enter so fully and sympathetically into the Indian's point of view, and being also without effective methods, they seemed like novices at their work. Fully as consecrated these missionary families no doubt were, but they were under a fearful handicap in this race for the souls of the benighted Indians.
Mr. Bagley also justly points out another great advantage possessed by the Catholic brethren. The "blackgowns" had essentially all the recognition and deference of representatives of a "state church" from the officials of Hudson Bay Company. This implies no lack of kindness and gracious concern for the comfort and safety of the protestant missionary families on the part of the good men in charge of the different posts. The special deference to the representatives of the Catholic Church was probably given unconsciously and unintentially, but it was there and the keen, perceptions of the Indian detected it. And the Indian had enough human nature to be strongly influenced by this fact in the responses he gave to these two sets of religious teachers. The Indian saw that the "blackgowns" swayed these men who wielded the power here below and held the keys to the Indian's comfort. Why should they not like St. Peter hold the same relative position in the happy hunting grounds on high?
Mr. Bagley quotes "with approval" Captain Wilkes' complaint that the protestant missionaries did not go where the Indians in large numbers were. But the missionary's plea, in answer to this charge, of confession and avoidance is, I think, well made. Scratch the average missionary with such an accusation as this and you draw the red-blood sentiment of the pioneer. The Reverend John P. Richmond, the pioneer missionary stationed at Fort Nisqually, is not wholly wrong when he says, "Very few persons seem capable of comprehending the logic or the pure purposes of the board of American missions in sending a large force of men and women into Oregon at an early day." These families of missionaries went near enough the Indians to look over the brink into the abyss of savagery and then wisely drew back to where they could establish themselves on the firm foundations of the institutions and activities of civilized life. This meant the postponement of large results—yea, even the absence of any for their generation. If the Methodists of the Willamette Valley stationed themselves too far away from the haunts of the Indians Doctor Whitman certainly remained too near.
While it is thus possible to arrive at a judgment different from Mr. Bagley's on some of the questions he discusses it is impossible to refrain from admiration of the judicial tone maintained throughout this brochure and of the perspicacity with which his points are brought out. The fine tribute paid to the magnanimous spirit and ability of those high in position in the Hudson Bay Company, including with Doctor McLoughlin, James Douglas, Peter Skeen Ogden, William Fraser Tolmie, Archibald McDonald, and John Work, is representative of the author. This coming from the son of a pioneer Methodist clergyman illustrates the flue catholicity with which all the topics are discussed.Mr. Bagley quotes just enough of the documents found in this collection of Mr. Edward Huggins to prove how rich it is. Every one solicitous for the preservation of the records of "Old Oregon" and for the making of them accessible to the accredited student of history is deeply concerned about these. Are they in their present depository secure against fire and other possible ravages? If preserved and fully utilized they will serve virtually as a revelation on the period they cover.
F. G. Y.