The American Catholic Historical Researches/Volume 18/"The Legend of Marcus Whitman," Founded on Anti-Catholic Hatred

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"The Legend of Marcus Whitman," Founded on Anti-Catholic Hatred.




In The Researches, October, 1899, was published "The Story of Marcus Whitman Refuted," by H. M. Beadle, Esq., of Washington, D. C.

In The American Historical Review, January, 1901, "The Legend of Marcus Whitman," by E. G. Bourne, is given.

It is a very critical and most exact examination of the story and "demonstrates" it to be "entirely unhistorical" and a "fictitious narrative." This sustains most strongly Mr. Beadle's contention that it was founded on "a pure invention, without any facts to sustain it, manufactured by a "bigoted Protestant who could see no good in anything Catholic."

A brief outline of the story is:

About the first of October, 1842, while Dr. Whitman was dining at a trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Walla the news comes of the arrival of a colony of Canadians from the Red River country. The assembled company is jubilant and a young priest cries out "Hurrah for Oregon! America is too late, and we have got the country." Whitman realized that if Canadian immigration has really begun the authorities at Washington ought to know it, and a counter American immigration ought to be promoted, so that when the joint occupation of Oregon is terminated, the presence of a majority of American settlers may turn the balance in favor of the United States by right of possession. The government must be informed as to the value of Oregon and its accessibility by overland emigration. In spite of the protests of his fellow missionaries, he immediately starts for Washington, where he arrives March 2, 1843, most opportunely to secure the postponement of negotiations looking to the surrender.of Oregon by pledging himself to demonstrate the accessibility of the country by conducting thither a thousand immigrants, which he does during the ensuing summer.

Prof. Bourne declares: "In both the essentials and the explanatory details the story of how Marcus Whitman saved Oregon is fictitious. It is not only without trustworthy contemporary evidence, but is irreconcilable with well established facts. No traces of knowledge of it have ever been found in the contemporary discussion of the Oregon question.

The story first emerges over twenty years after the events and seventeen years after Whitman's death and its conception of the Oregon policy of the government is that handed down by tradition in an isolated and remote community.

The real cause of Dr. Whitman's journey to the East was the decision of the| American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to discontinue the Southern branch of the Mission, and his purpose was to secure a reversal of that order, and reinforcements from the Board, and to bring back, if possible, a few Christian families.

The rapidly increasing immigration into Oregon made an increase of Protestant missions essential if Oregon was to be saved from becoming Catholic.

The earliest printed version of the story is in an address on "Early Indian Missions," by Rev. G. H. Atkinson, at Pittsfield, October 5, 1866, but it "does not contain the Fort Walla Walla incident."

The fictitious account of Whitman's journey, its causes, purpose and achievements originated with his colleague in the Oregon mission, the Rev. H. H. Spalding, who was declared by The Oregon Statesman, of August 11, 1855, to be "a lunatic upon the subject of Catholicism and not over and above sane upon any subject"; and "almost if not quite a monomaniac on the subject of Catholicism," says Mr. Bourne, who adds, "his repeated charge brought forth an answer from Brouilet, the Vicar General, of Walla Walla, and nine years later Brouilet' s pamphlet was included by J. Rosse Browne in an official report which he made on the causes of the Indian War in Oregon and Washington. Brouilet's reply is temperate in tone but makes assertions about the attitude of the Indians towards the Protestant missionaries and the causes of it, which the missionaries regarded as slanders. But to have this Catholic pamphlet distributed as public document incensed Spalding beyond endurance and roused him to ceaseless efforts to overwhelm the Catholics with obloquy."

So Spalding accumulated a mass of material which he got published under the title, "Early Labors of the Missionaries of the American Board; etc," in Oregon as an Executive Document 37 (Senate) Forty-first Congress, third session.

It was as an element in this extraordinary campaign of vindication that the legendary story of Whitman was developed. Nothing could more effectively catch the public ear and prepare the public mind for resentment against the Catholics than to show that Whitman saved Oregon to the United States and then lost his life, a sacrifice to the malignant disappointment of the "Jesuits and the Hudson's Bay Company.

Mr. Bourne then proceeds "to examine into Spalding's veracity or trustworthiness as a source."

He shows how Spalding in reprinting a report of Elijah White, U. S. sub-Indian agent that Whitman' mill was burnt purposely by some disaffected persons towards Dr. Whitman, inserted this additional sentence, "The mill, lumber and a great quantity of grain was burned by Catholic Indians, instigated by Romanists to break up the Protestant mission, and prevent supplies to the on-coming emigration by Dr. Whitman."

This interpolation, says Bourne, was made deliberately in an official document for the purpose of manufacturing evidence of previous Catholic malignity which would render plausible Spalding's accusation in regard to the massacre.

Spalding also manufactured the famous story about three Indians coming to St. Louis to get the Bible "the book from Heaven." Says Bourne: Where Dr. White quotes an old chief as saying in regard to the conference he was holding: e Clark pointed to this day, to you, and this occasion; we have long waited in expectation; sent three of our sons to the Red River School to prepare for it. "Spalding changed the last clause to "sent three of our sons to the rising sun to obtain the book from Heaven," thus manufacturing first-hand confirmation of the somewhat doubtful story of the Indians who came to St. Louis for the Bible.

"Oregon was in no danger of being lost," says Bourne.

When Whitman was in the East he met the Mission Board at Boston. Among his requests was that five or ten Christian men should be sent to Oregon and among other effects this would have would be that of "Counteracting papal efforts and influences."

About this time a party of emigrants were to cross the country to Oregon. Whitman joined the party. This has been magnified into his "organizing and taking out a thousand emigrants." "I found it my duty to go with the party myself," he wrote from St. Louis, May 12,1843.

Calling attention to the Catholic missionary efforts, for which he refers the Committee to De Smedt's "Indian Sketches," he continues' I think by a very careful consideration of this together with these facts and movements you will realize our feelings that we must look upon this the only spot on the Pacific Coast left where Protestants have a present hope of a foothold."

On May 30th he wrote from Shawnee, "We cannot at all feel it just that we are doing nothing while worldly men and papists are doing so much. Dr. Smedt's business in Europe can be seen, 1 think, at the top of the 23d page of his 'Indian Sketches.' You will see by his book I think that the papal effort is designed to convey over the country to the English."

On November 1st he wrote from Walla Walla: "We very much need good men to locate themselves, two, three or four in a place and secure a good influence for the Indians and form a nucleus for religious institutions and keep back Romanism. This country must be occupied by American or foreigners; if it is by the latter, they will be mostly papists.

Bourne concludes:

"That the generally accepted story of Marcus Whitman is entirely unhistorical has been demonstrated. That this fictitious narrative should have been widely diffused and accepted * * is surprising. That this should have taken place since the publication of Bancroft's 'History of Oregon' in 1885 * * * is almost incredible.

"The results of this investigation will come to many as a shock.

"The sturdy manliness and Christian devotion of Marcus Whitman, the increasing labors of his life and his death in the service of the Christian missions in Oregon, fully deserve every honorable memorial. The perversion of history cannot honor such a man."

The investigation therefore sustains the declarations of Mr. Beadle in The Researches.

Prof. Bourne says: "My eyes were first opened to the intricacies and curious origin of the legend by a very careful investigation conducted under my supervision by one of my students, Mr. Arthur Howard Hutchinson.

"His study of the question convinced him that there was a larger amount of collusion, and purpose in developing and disseminating the story than I have thought it best to try and prove in this article."

Of O. W. Nixon's "How Whitman Saved Oregon," he says, "the author is either ignorant of or suppresses essential facts."

Dye's "McLoughlin and Old Oregon," is hardly more than an historical romance.