Narcissa Whitman Letter April 12, 1844Crystal Calhoun
WAIILATPU Oregon Territory,
April 12th, 1844
My Beloved Father: — I was coming up the Columbia river from the Willamette and Vancouver with Rev. Jason Lee when your welcomed letter reached me. My husband had each of the stations of the Mission to visit before he could come after me. Mr. Lee brought me on my way home as far as The Dalles, to Mr Perkins, one of their stations, where I spent the winter of my husband’s absence. I remained there a few days, and my long absent doctor came for me. It was a joyful and happy meeting and caused our hearts to overflow with love and gratitude to the Author of all our mercies, for permitting us to see each other’s faces again in the flesh. We came home immediately after a short visit with friends there. My health, which had been quite poor some of the time of his absence, was somewhat improved, but the voyage up the river, or rather the exposure of rain, cold and fatigue, and also the journey from Walla Walla here, proved injurious to me. I was so unwell when I reached home that I could scarcely get about the house for several weeks. I continued to decline, or, rather, had two attacks of remittent fever until the last of December, when I was taken with a very severe attack of inflammation of the bowels and bloating which threatened almost immediate death. The second night of the attack, we almost despaired of my living. From the first, I was taken with excruciating pain and spitting bilious fluid from the stomach, and could keep nothing down, nor effect a motion of the bowels sufficient to afford a permanent relief; a cluster of salts was introduced into the bowels with a long tube and stomach pump the second night, and followed by a portion of the same medicine in the morning, which soon gave signs of relief. The cathartic operated favorably and thoroughly, and I recovered almost immediately so as to be able to sit up and be about the room. Previous to this, and almost as soon as husband returned and inquired into my case, he discovered a beating tumor near the umbilicus and fears it is an aneurysm of the main aorta below the heart. If what he fears is true, he says there is no probability or possibility of a cure, or of my ever enjoying anything more than a comfortable degree of health, and I am liable at any moment to a sudden death. While I was at Vancouver, I placed myself under Doctor Barclay’s care, a surgeon of the H. B. Company’s. He discovered that I had an enlargement of the right ovary and gave me iodine to remove it.
I was very much improved by his kind attentions for that complaint, and had it not been for the other difficulty of the aorta which was not at that time discovered by Doctor Barclay, although it existed, I might have recovered my health. But the medicine I took for the cure of one tumor was an injury to the other, and for three months after my husband’s return, my situation was a source of deepest anxiety to him and he greatly feared that he was about to be bereaved. But the Lord dealt in infinite loving kindness to us both, and in answer to prayer, raised me up again. Yes, beloved parents, while I was in that precarious state, and almost without hope that I should survive many hours, dear brother Little John, who is now with us, prayed for me with the full assurance that the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord heard and answered.
I am now much more comfortable than at that time husband expected I ever could be. I am able to take the whole care of my family and aid in doing the most difficult part of the work, or that that I cannot get done by others. During the first three months after my return to the station, husband was confined with the care of me and was obliged to have the whole care of the family upon his mind at the same time with his other duties. Our family was large and at the time I arrived, there were two large families of the emigrants in our house besides Mr. Little John’s, and our own consisted of six children and two hired men. We have written about our half breed children, those we had before the doctor left; in addition to those is Perrin, our nephew, and two English girls of the emigrating party of last year. One of them is thirteen and the other six; they are motherless; they have both required much training, but I hope to realize much benefit from them if I should succeed in keeping them.
This paper is so rough that it makes my writing look very miserable and I fear father and mother will scarcely be able to read it. I should take common-sized letter paper did I not wish to write more than one sheet. Last fall I did not write a single letter home. I was not able to, and feared I should never have the privilege again. Writing injures me very much, and unless I feel more than usually well I find it exceedingly difficult to attempt it, especially as I am situated; having just as much labor and care as a weak person ought to have, and much more that needs to be done.
My beloved parents need not be surprised should they hear of my death soon. Ever since the fall of 1840, the sickness I had at that time, I have been declining. Every spring I revive and feel quite well, and feel as if I should regain my health again, but every fall and winter I am very miserable. I may live several years yet, with care and favoring myself, but I do not expect it. My dear parents must wish to know how my mind stands affected in view of death. I can sincerely say that “I would not live always.” Yet so long as I can be permitted to live and be a benefit to the living and the cause of Christ, I desire to. At times I long to be at rest, to be free from sin and its defilement’s and be made complete in the righteousness of our dear Saviour. Earth and the things of this world in themselves considered have no charms for me. I can resign them all for a place in the presence of Jesus. I feel that I am a miserably poor sinner, and unworthy of a name or a place among the “sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty.” Yet I hope and trust alone in the merits of him who is infinitely worthy, for salvation from all sin and unrighteousness. He is my all, and I desire to be His entirely.
Last winter I felt in some considerable degree what is one of the missionary’s greatest trials, to be sick and nigh unto death, and to die away from father, mother, brothers and sisters, and sympathizing friends. It is, indeed, no small trial for flesh and blood to endure, but thanks to God, His cheering presence can more than supply the absence of all these. Do my dear parents cease not to pray for your afflicted daughter that I may be prepared; ready, watching and waiting for the summons to depart and be with Christ “which is far better.” For His sake and the missionary cause, I could live long and toil and labor through many a wearisome day and night to aid in accomplishing His great work. But as He directs, so I desire to follow, and to say, “The will of the Lord be done.”
I have something to say concerning the manner in which I spent my time last summer while the doctor was gone. I forget when was the last time I wrote you. I think, however, it was last spring. I came from Mr. Perkins in April and visited the station and went to Walla Walla in May to avail myself of the opportunity of a passage in the brigade boats the first of June. We reached Vancouver in five days, remained there until the middle of July and then went to the Willamette Falls, where I spent three weeks very pleasantly in the families of Mr. Abernethy and Mr. Walters of the Methodist Mission. In August, the Company’s ship was about leaving in which Mr. and Mrs. Lee of Waskopum was about to depart in her; also Dr. Babcock and wife and Mr.and Mrs. Frost, all Methodist missionaries. I went down to the mouth of the Columbia river to see them depart and to get a view of the Pacific Ocean. I enjoyed the voyage down and my visit there very much. The scenery of the ocean and the bar was new to me. I also had a visit with the families of the Mission at the Clatsop station. Mr. and Mrs. Parrish, Mr. and Mrs. Raymond, Mr. and Mrs.Judson and family, and Mrs. Olley [Olney?] had come down for the benefit of Mrs. Judson’s health. Mr. Leslie and Mr. Jason Lee were there also. I spent a day or two on board ship with Mrs. Lee, in whose society I enjoyed so much satisfaction while at Waskopum. Visited the celebrated Astoria, now Fort George, and the day the ship sailed went round Clatsop Point to the station and spent nearly a week there and enjoyed some precious religious privileges with the brethren and sisters there and returned with Mr. J. Lee and Mr. Leslie to the Willamette Falls, and immediately proceeded up the river to the upper Mission and visited the families of Rev. Mr. Hinds, Mr. Beers and others, and also Mr. and Mrs. Gray, my old associates. While there a camp meeting was held near by, which I attended and a precious season it was to my soul. To witness again the anxious tear and hear the deep-felt inquiry, “What must I do to be saved?” as I once used to, filled me with joy inexpressible. It continued four days and resulted in the conversion of almost all the impenitent on the ground. From this precious season, after a week or two, we came to the Falls where a protracted meeting was held. While that was in progress, the news came that my husband was on his return with a hundred and forty wagons containing an immense party of emigrants, and that probably he was now at WAIILATPU.
This was cheering news, as I had just heard from the Islands through Mr. Hall that, iu recent news from the States to the Islands down as late as April, 1843, no mention was made of his arrival. This had given me much anxiety, but it was not long before the other intelligence came. The last week in September, I left the Falls for Vancouver and The Dalles in company with Mr. J. Lee, the Superintendent of that Mission, and turned my back upon many dear friends in Christ with whom I was permitted to form an acquaintance and a Christian attachment never to be forgotten.
Having been so long secluded, I was well prepared to enjoy society and 1 may well say that some of the moments spent there with Christian friends were among the happiest in my life. We made a short stay at Vancouver and then proceeded on our way up the river. Passing the Cascades and making the portage, we had continual rain, and before we reached The Dalles, I took cold to my great injury, as it afterwards proved. Between the Cascades
and The Dalles, I received father’s letter with several others from friends, also sisters Jane, C. and H; I am greatly obliged to them for writing. Mr. Lee waited at The Dalles until the doctor came. It was pleasing to see the pioneers of the two Missions meet and hold counsel together. Soon we parted and I turned my face with my husband toward this dark spot, and dark, indeed, it seemed to be to me when compared with the scenes, social and religious which I had so recently been enjoying with so much zest.
When we parted with Mr. Lee, we little thought that our first news from him would be, that he had set his face toward his native land. But it was, indeed, so. He has gone again and I should rejoice if dear father and mother would see him. He has shown me great kindness during my lonely state, and may the Lord reward him for it. He has been deeply afflicted in his domestic relations. He has buried two excellent wives, and a little son. A little daughter of his last wife, still survives to comfort and cheer him in his loneliness. She has gone with him to the States; and so has Rev. Mr. Hinds and his wife. As they are from the region of Allegheny county, I hope father will see them.
It must appear singular to friends at home to hear of the return of so many missionaries from Oregon. So it seems to us; but we have not the discouragements which our friends of that Mission have. The Indians of the Willamette and the coast are diminishing rapidly; but they have another work put into their hands. Settlers are coming into the country like a flood and every one of these need the gospel preached to them as much as the heathen. That Society have been and are doing a great deal of good in the lower country. Mr. Clark and Mr. Griffin, ministers of our denomination, are settled near on the Tualatin plains and are doing much good in the way of schools and preaching. I did not visit them, although greatly urged to; on account of my health I could not ride there, as it was some distance from the river.
I was greatly disappointed in not seeing Jane when the doctor returned. I fancied he would bring her, and so he would have done had a family been coming with whom it would have been prudent for her to come. I still hope some day to see her here. But I know not how. This I do know, that no one of my friends at home know of how much comfort she would be to me if she was here.
Sister Little John is a great comfort to me. She acted the part of a sister to me during my sickness, but I do not always expect to keep her. Mr. Little John is in poor health and unable to labor. His mind suffers greatly from dejection and melancholy, and he longs to go back so the States again. Mr. and Mrs. Spalding and two children have been deeply afflicted the past summer, just before the doctor’s return, with sickness, especially Mrs. S. She lay for several days expecting every moment would be her last, and no physician near. Mr. and Mrs. Little John was there at that time, and as soon as possible Mr. Geiger, who was at this station, was sent for, also Mr.
Walker, to preach her funeral sermon — expecting she would die before he reached there. Her husband and children were sick at the same time and all must have perished had it not been that Mr. and Mrs. Littlejohn were providentially there, having a short time before returned from Mr. Walker’s. God in mercy spared them all and restored them back to health again. But Mrs. S. is feeble, and like myself, we feel cannot be expected to live long.
Since my return to the station, Mrs. S. has written me very kindly, showing that her feelings have undergone a change during her sickness, while in the near view of death and expecting every moment to enter the dark valley. This is a great consolation to us, and we hope and believe that they both feel different toward us from what they did, and surely they have great reason to, from husband’s account of his visit to the rooms in Boston.
I desire never to pass through such scenes of trial as I have done, and God grant that I may never be called to. We both have spent a happy winter in each other’s society. Having those unhappy difficulties removed makes a change in our every day feelings. We are happier in each other and happier in God and in our work than we could have been while laboring under those exciting difficulties — yea! soul-destroying difficulties, I may well say.
For more than a year past I have enjoyed an unwonted quiet resting upon God my Redeemer, especially during my husband’s absence. Truly my Savior was with me in those trying hours, and sustained me far beyond what I deserve. A calm, peaceful sense of His abiding presence was what I almost daily realized. Being free from any distracting cares of my family and the station, I had nothing else to do but rest myself in my Saviour’s arms; and it would be well for me now if I were to do the same, instead of attempting to shoulder my cares, as I often do — to cast them on Him who has said ” Cast thy burdens upon the Lord and He will sustain thee.” I know this, and believe it, too, for I have sometimes realized it. But to have the constant habit of doing so is what I would gladly obtain, and I know I may with diligence and prayerful watching thereunto.
I see I have almost exceeded my limits, and must think of closing. Father’s letters are choice gems to me, and I hope he will continue to write as long as I live. O! that dear mother would put some of her thoughts on paper for the consolation of my heart. She does not know what joy it would give me. I am a thousand times thankful for all the favors I receive from home, and shall write to alias many and as much as my weak state will admit.
Love to all, in which husband unites. I am sorry he did not have time to make a longer visit after going so far. Farewell, dear father and mother, and if I never write again till we meet in heaven,
Your ever affectionate daughter,
Hon. Stephen Prentiss,
Cuba, Allegheny Co.,
N. Y., U. S. A.