San Francisco Call/Volume 78/Mrs. Frances Fuller Victor vs. Dr. O. W. Nixon of Chicago

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"Dr. O. W. Nixon of Chicago."

When a man in argument descends to vituperation his opponent can afford to smile, because he betrays his own conviction that his cause is a lost one. So "Dr. Nixon of Chicago" instead of bringing one particle of proof of his assertion that Dr. Marcus Whitman saved Oregon, fills nearly two columns of The Call with assertions, and, schoolboy like, calling names. I take this to be a characteristic of the inventors and defenders of the Whitman myth, for, after all, Dr. Nixon is only an imitator in this respect, as he is in so closely following W. H. Gray in his "historical romance."

The subject is, as he says, too large for discussion in a newspaper, but I will reply as briefly as I can, not with simple assertions, but with proofs which any one who will take the trouble can verify for himself. That Dr. Nixon will not in his present mood take the trouble goes without saying.

Dr. Nixon starts out with the assertion that every position which I assume is disproved by "facts of history that I utterly ignore," yet he does not give those facts. That is just what I propose to do, to show him the folly of neglecting so important a move. I can only suppose he overlooked its importance in the fear of converting me, which he says he does not propose to do. Now, au contraire, I have strong hopes of converting Dr. Nixon. I believe that he is a man of good intentions, and that he is not willfully telling falsehoods, as he says I am. The mistake he made was in assuming a certain thing to be true because a person who ought to know said so. I made the same blunder myself at the beginning of my Oregon studies, but once caught in that net was enough for me. I would not now say this is the year 1895 without consulting the calendar.

The doctor says I am the "author of the quirks and fables called history in Bancroft's Oregon," but gives Mr. Bancroft credit for having "changed some things," and me for having said that Mr. Bancroft "printed falsehoods in their stead." I would remark, with regard to the use of quotation points, that it is the custom to be accurate when doing so, and that the doctor fails in this respect. I never said that Mr. Bancroft "printed falsehoods," whatever might have been implied by what I did say; and I am not going to say that Dr. Nixon prints falsehoods, whatever my conviction in the matter may be. I hope I have better manners. At all events, I shall try to content myself with simply "making faces"—a relief which the doctor has kindly suggested to me.

But now to argument: As the real author of the "History of Oregon," of which Mr. Bancroft knew little except what he learned from my work, I am prepared to correct my opponent's statements on several points, and to explain the passages which he imputes, rightfully or wrongfully, to Mr. Bancroft or myself. First, the quotation from the "Chronicles of the Builders," volume I, page 584, "The missionaries and pioneers of Oregon did much to assure the country to the United States. Had there been no movement of the kind England would have extended her claim over the whole Territory, with a fair prospect of making it her own."

In saying that the missionaries of Oregon assured the country to the United States Mr. Bancroft simply copies what I have amply set forth in the first volume of Oregon; but neither he nor I referred to the Presbyterian missions any more than we would have it understood of the Catholic missions. It was of The Methodist missions of Western Oregon—of the country south of the Columbia—that it was said. They held the country against the British claim. They were politicians, and were encouraged to be so by agents of the Government, and patriotic writers and travelers. They had a colony of between sixty and seventy persons, and were rich in cattle and goods, in houses and lands; whereas the missions in the upper country were scattered, were without members and were almost entirely dependent upon the Hudson Bay Company for transportation, mails, protection from the Indians and whatever of civilization they enjoyed. This I have made plain in the history, and this I say now, that if Dr. Whitman could have been laboring in a deceitful and underhanded way to bring discomfiture upon his truest friends he would not have deserved a better fate than that which unfortunately befell him. But I have steadfastly denied that he acted in this treacherous manner.

Again Dr. Nixon quotes, and this time from Oregon I, page 579: "But missionary work did not pay, however, either with the white men or the red, whereupon the apostles of this religion began to attend more to their own affairs than to save savage souls. They broke up their establishments in 1844, and thenceforth became a political clique, whose chief aim was to acquire other men's property." "That," he says, "is a Victor sentiment." Without claiming or rejecting the sentiment, I acknowledge the revision of Mr. Bancroft in this instance. He seemed to think I put it too mildly for the facts, and did a little interlining. But now as to Dr. Nixon's historical accuracy. He should have known that the above quoted paragraph referred without question to the Methodist missions—in fact he could not have read my history without knowing it—for not only were they broken up in 1844, as he must have heard when he was in Oregon, but the history of their affairs is given a distinct narration, unmixed with any other missions, in the volume referred to. This statement of the closing of the Methodist missions is made by Dr. Nixon to apply to the Presbyterians by these artfully worded sentences: "Now, mind you, the Whitman massacre did not occur until November 29, 1847. The challenge to Mrs. Victor's truthfulness is squarely made, and needs no comment." I think, myself, that comment is unnecessary to point out the prevarication.

Again, Dr. Nixon quotes me as saying that "Dr. Whitman got well-to-do by selling flour and grain and vegetables to immigrants at high prices," and I object to his use of quotation points unless he constructs his sentences differently. However, I am shortly going to show that after the immigration to Oregon set in he did accumulate a snug property: but, first, I must object again to the manner in which Dr. Nixon mixes up dates. An instance of this kind of now you see it and now you don't see it history is too painfully confusing, as perhaps it is intended to be. The doctor quotes from a letter of Mrs. Whitman's, dated October 9, 1840, to disprove something I have said which related to a period several years later. She mentions that her house was a "missionary's tavern." Nothing more natural or true. As the mission station was the only residence of white people in Walla Walla Valley, every traveler, explorer, Government officer or other person who happened to be in the country was sure to visit it. Mrs. Whitman complains that they have to entertain so much without payment, the presence of the Hudson Bay Company prohibiting trade, and the mission property, besides, being owned by the A. B. F. M., by whom Dr. Whitman was appointed. But after Dr. Whitman's journey East that was changed, and he was permitted to trade, as he did every year, going out to meet the immigrants, instead of drawing them off to his station, as the immigrants of 1843 complained that he did, causing them to travel eighty or ninety miles out of their route. Mr. Spalding is quoted as saying that "Immigrants by hundreds and thousands reached the mission wayworn, hungry, sick and destitute, but he cared for all. Seven orphan children of one family were left upon the hands of Dr. and Mrs. Whitman, one a babe four months old, but they cared for them all, giving them clothing, medicine and food without pay. Frequently the doctor would give away his entire food supply and have to send to me for grain to get through the winter."

I am aware that a family of seven children were adopted by Dr. and Mrs. Whitman. It was undoubtedly a charity to the children, but it was not an unmixed beneficence. Both the doctor and his wife needed help and found it impossible to keep enough people about them to carry on the labor of teaching and farming. It, therefore, was a common-sense movement to adopt a family of well-grown children, who would become interested in their affairs, and, knowing no other home, be content to remain with them. As to giving away his entire food supply, it is scarcely necessary to comment on a statement such as this. That sometimes he sold himself "short" and was compelled to draw upon Lapwai station, and even upon Colville, is a matter of history. That he was paid for piloting the immigration of 1843 over the middle portion of their route is also a matter of history. When I was in the Bancroft Library Jesse Applegate sent me a copy of "Gray's History of Oregon," the margin of whose pages were covered with notes in his fine and clear chirography, and among them was one relating to this matter of pilotage, in which he said that he paid $45 as his share. On my quoting this statement in a newspaper article, Rev. Mr. Eells of Skokomish, Wash., wrote me a polite letter, in which he said: "There is one statement which you make in your article in the Californian (he meant the Oregonian) which I have never been able to understand. It is where Hon. J. Applegate says my father was at Dr. Whitman's when the immigration arrived, with Mr. Walker, and obliged him to ask pay of every immigrant for pilotage. I cannot understand why Mr. A. should make this statement, as my father was not there or within 150 miles of there, and did not compel him to do any such thing. I have always understood, however, that Mr. A. did give Dr. W. a cow worth about $40 or $45 by way of gratitude for services rendered."

Now, American cows at this period were worth $100 in the Willamette Valley. If others paid at an equal rate the mission superintendent was well rewarded for his services. Applegate said others did pay, and few persons knowing him would question his word. But Mr. Eells says his father, who was a member of the mission board, was not there. Which authority is mistaken I cannot pretend to determine. But that Mr. Walker, the associate of Mr. Eells' father in the Spokane country, was there, is certain, as that is on record, and it may be that Mr. Applegate's memory included the whole board instead of only Dr. Whitman, Spalding and Walker. The error is immaterial as to the main fact.

Peter Burnett, ex-Governor of California, in his "Recollections of a Pioneer," says that "What surprised us most, after the representations that had been made, was the fine pasturage we met all along the way, and especially at The Dalles, where we had been led to believe the cattle could not subsist at all during the winter." This passage simply corroborates what has been charged by many of the pioneers—that an effort was made to secure to the mission the immigrants' stock or pay for the wintering of it. Daniel Waldo, another good authority, says in his vigorous style "Whitman lied like hell" in telling him his stock could not subsist on the road to and at The Dalles. "The first night out I found the finest grass I ever saw, and it was good every night. Several of the immigrants declare that Dr. Whitman and his nephew were fed for the most of the time he was with them out of the supplies of several families. When we remember the value of food on the plains this was no common debt on his part, and ought to incline us to divide the praises due good deeds between Dr. Whitman and the immigrants.

The main point at issue, however, is the motive which led Dr. Whitman to go East in the winter of 1842. I have said, and reiterate it, that the causes which led him to make the journey were the trouble he continually had with the Indians, the need of laborers and teachers and the difficulty of securing them on account of the fears inspired by their outbreaks. No one except the members of the board had ever remained long at the missions, and when they were in straits they called on the Hudson Bay Company, which, by threatening to withdraw its trade, kept them from extreme hostilities. It was a desire of Dr. Whitman to have a limited number of selected Christian families settled about him, who would furnish him the necessary aid on the farm, at the mills and in the schoolroom and be an example to the Indians. But let us see what is authoritatively said about that. The following extract from the Missionary Herald of September, 1843, furnishes all the facts important to sustain my position, and is by the editor in the introduction to Whitman's report to the Home Board:

"It was stated in the last annual report that the southern branch of this (Oregon) mission, embracing Waiilatpu, near Walla Walla, and Clear Creek (Lapwai), and Kaimah, higher up the waters of Snake River, had been discontinued.

"At a special meeting held in October last to consider this decision it was thought advisable that Dr. Whitman should personally communicate the condition and prospects of these stations to the prudential committee. After a long and toilsome journey he reached Boston early in the spring and upon hearing the representations which he made it was resolved to sustain the mission without any material change.

"Were the prospects of benefiting those for whom it was more especially established even less than it is, there are other considerations which would justify its continuance. Aside from its influence on the Indians, the emigrants who are now crossing the Rocky Mountains in companies, containing sometimes hundreds of souls, will be in a most deplorable condition if they find in their new homes nothing better than heathenism or Romanism. Another object of Dr. Whitman's in making the above visit was to procure additional laborers. He desired also to induce Christian families to emigrate and settle in the vicinity of the different stations, that they might relieve the missionary of his secular responsibilities and also contribute directly, in various ways, to the social and moral improvement of the Indians. How far his wishes in this particular will be responded to is at present uncertain. He set out on his return to his labors about the 1st of June and probably he has nearly, if not quite, reached his station."

I have before me a copy of the letter written to Hon. Elwood Evans by Archibald McKinley Esq., of the Hudson Bay Company, who was in charge of Fort Walla Walla when Whitman went East, and who furnished him the company's dress and a guide. He says of the doctor's motive, that he is certain of its real object. "He told me that he could not bear the idea of abandoning the Lapwai station. My opinion on the subject was solicited, which I gave in writing, but I have not a copy of my remarks. I remember, however, deprecating the proposed action of the board, and in various conversations with the doctor I strongly commended his resolve in going East in order to have a personal interview with the head members of the board." How does this testimony agree with the statement that Dr. Whitman's sole purpose in going East was to arrange an international treaty on his own lines?

The "opinion" which Mr. McKinlay was asked to furnish in order to strengthen Whitman's cause with the board was in the form of a letter to Dr. Greene, secretary of the Home Missionary Board, a copy of the answer to which is before me. Let me make a few extracts to show its nature:

Missionary House, Boston, April 11, 1844.

Archibald McKinlay, Walla Walla, OregonDear Sir: Your friendly letter lo Mr. Spalding of the 27th December, 1842, has been forwarded to me by him, that I may be furnished with the views you entertain of him as a missionary laborer, and his success in teaching and improving the Indians. Letters from other gentlemen residing in Oregon country and presumably acquainted with the labors and success of Mr. Spalding, we are happy to say, accord with the views expressed by yourself. When Dr. Whitman arrived here in March, 1843, he made such representations as led the committee * * [Here owing to the worn condition of the paper on which the letter was written some lines were missing.] * * The mission have confirmed the board in the decision they then made. We were led to the previous purpose of discontinuing some of the labors, and having Mr. Spalding return to the States, by some desponding letters which we received from the mission in a time of disappointment, and when there were some unhappy disagreements among some of those then connected with the mission. * * * [The remainder of the letter refers to a commission to purchase some books, which Dr. Whitman had left for the writer to attend to, and which he promises to send by the first vessel leaving for the Sandwich Islands, whence the Hudson Bay Company's vessel would bring them to the Columbia River. This letter is signed, "Very respectfully and truly yours,

D. Greene,

"Secretary A. B. C. F. M."

Referring to the story of the Red River settlers, and the statement that Sir George Simpson went to Washington, et cetera, in a letter somewhat later than the one from McKinlay to Evans above quoted, McKinlay again writes: "Who will believe that the American Government were so ignorant of the country lying between the Missouri and the Columbia that they had to get their information from the English? * * * I have already shown you that there existed not the slightest foundation for these statements. They are utterly false and void of truth as anything ever concocted even by tne Prince of Darkness himself."

And further he says: "I believe Whitman's assistance to the immigration of 1843 was much appreciated, but I do not believe that he had any part in forming or organizing the party. * * * Whitman in 1843 counseled the immigrants of 1843 (I did the same) not to attempt taking their wagons to The Dalles. It was thought impossible to do so, but a few of them made the attempt and succeeded. Neither Whitman or I knew anything back from the banks of the Columbia, hence our opinion that it would be unwise to make the attempt without first exploring to find the lay of the land. * * * All I will here say is that I never met one member of the Hudson Bay Company acquainted with Dr. Whitman mention his name but in the highest terms of respect and esteem, and I will assert that not one of them ever heard a word about the object for the wonderful visit to Washington. * * * Atkinson asserts that Whitman and I quarreled at Walla Walla in October. Lovejoy states that he and Whitman left Waiilatpu on the 5th of that month, and that 'through the kindness of Mr. McKinlay Mrs. Whitman was provided with suitable escort to the Willamette,' just after quarreling! * * * In your letter you ask, 'Do you know whether he actually visited Washington at all?' Answer—I do not believe he did. As Lovejoy states, the liquor question was a hobby with him. I have often heard him talk of it. * * * I am very much pleased with Mrs. Victor's piece in the Californian, and many thanks for it." [This refers to an article of mine in the Californian for September, 1880, on the several boundary treaties.]

It is a fact well known that Mr. Atkinson drew up the statement signed by Mr. Lovejoy, he being feeble in body and brain at the time. Atkinson himself knew nothing of the events he vouched for, and only lent himself to the scheme of establishing a foundationless claim.

One thing more I wish to dispose of— the charge that I make any insinuations against Mrs. Whitman. On the contrary I greatly admire her character. But my opinion does not affect the question between Dr. Nixon and myself. I will quote on the subject of her being left in the Indian country unprotected save by a single assistant, hired to look after the mission. Gray himself relates it. Lee and Frost, in their "Ten Years in Oregon," delicately refrain from telling the whole story and only say: "In 1842 Dr. Whitman visited the United States to obtain further assistance, in order to strengthen the efforts that had already been made. About the same time Mr. Gray went to reside in the Willamette, and Mr. Geiger, mentioned in a former chapter, supplied, in the absence of Dr. Whitman, his place at Waiilatpu. Mrs. Whitman, whose health had suffered much for some time before the doctor left, spent the following winter at The Dalles with the resident missionary families at that station." P. 213.

Dr. White, in his "Ten Years in Oregon," says: "We reached The Dalles, some 220 miles from the Pacific, on the 24th (of November, 1842), having been detained by wind, spent several days with the Methodist mission families, who welcomed us joyfully and made our stay agreeable and refreshing. Mrs. Whitman was here, having found if improper and unsafe to remain where she had been so lately grossly insulted," p. 181. In another place he says: "There was but one thing wrong in this matter on the part of Dr. Whitman, and that was a great error—leaving his excellent lady thus unprotected in the midst of savages."

This disposes of the several counts in Dr. Dixon's indictment of me in last Sunday's Call. But I have a word or two yet to be said. If Dr. Whitman had been at all a politician it would have been talked of at the time, when Americanism was redhot in the Willamette Valley; but he is never mentioned in connection with any of the petitions and reports to the Government which were frequently sent to Washington by the Methodist missionaries. If he had gone to Washington to save Oregon from the British lion, he would not have returned empty handed as he did. If he had done anything to influence the boundary treaties, the volunteers in the Cayuse War which followed the treaty of 1846 would have had a legend setting forth the facts, the Oregon Spectator would have been full of it, and the matter would not have slept nearly twenty years before it was ever heard of.

Only a year or two ago I was talking with Major Magoun of Cayuse War fame, who informed me that among the letters and papers found at the mission none of any significance were discovered, and that the only ones which were of interest were those letters from Dr. McLaughlin persuading Dr. Whitman to quit the Cayuse country for a while to make the Indians regret their misconduct and invite him back again. Had he gone as advised he might have avoided the tragedy which caused the Cayuse War.

Lately nothing I have ever written concerning Dr. Whitman could be construed by a fair critic as disrespectful or ungenerous. I simply treat him as a man and refuse to surround him with a nimbus of glory because he was a missionary and the hero of a lost cause, and because he pitifully died when he might have lived. I am sorry for his death, but cannot deify him in consequence.

Frances Fuller Victor.

San Francisco, September, 1895.