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"We Want You for Oregon"

On his return trip from the rendezvous in 1835, Whitman wrote to Rev. David Greene, one of the secretaries of the American Board, about the need for recruits for Oregon. Greene in his reply told Whitman about two missionaries who had volunteered for the West; he also cautioned Whitman against taking a bride into the wilderness.

As it turned out, neither of the two ministers was able to go to Oregon. But when he arrived home, Whitman learned of a third minister, Henry Spalding, who had just been appointed to a mission in western Missouri. In answer to Whitman's query, Spalding was willing to change his destination to Oregon, provided that the Board approved.

Marcus Whitman's certificate appointed him "an assistant missionary to Indian tribes West of the State of Missouri." It was also necessary for the missionaries to get permission from the Secretary of War to visit the Indian lands of western United States.

The year 1835 came to an end without any definite word from the American Board concerning the Spaldings or anyone else. Greene forwarded some good news, however, when he wrote that the Board now approved of women going to Oregon. Since Whitman had become engaged to a Miss Narcissa Prentiss prior to going west with Parker, this word was indeed welcomed. A few days later the Board decided that there should be a total of five in the party for Oregon: Dr. Whitman, an ordained minister, their wives, and a layman to serve as farmer and mechanic. The one limitation was that no children could be taken.

In writing Greene of his lack of success in getting recruits, Whitman again mentioned the Spaldings as a possibility. Greene replied that the Spaldings were in eligible because they had a child. Whitman hastened to write that the Spaldings had lost their only baby. Greene's reply to this was vague. Although he did not directly state that the Spaldings could go, he noted that he did not know who else would be available.

This was enough for Whitman to act upon. He immediately went to Prattsburg, N.Y., to tell Henry Spalding the news. But he was too late. Spalding had just departed for his post in Missouri. Undismayed, Whitman gave chase and overtook the Spaldings on the road, reportedly exclaiming, "We want you for Oregon." Henry and Eliza accepted the call and continued on to wait for Whitman in Cincinnati. Whitman returned home for his wedding.

map of the Whitman-Spalding Route
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

On February 18, 1836, Marcus Whitman married Narcissa Prentiss. The ceremony closed with the hymn, "Yes, My Native Land! I Love Thee." This proved to be too emotional for the congregation. Knowing that the couple was leaving in the morning for distant Oregon, those present, one by one, faltered in the singing. By the time the last stanza was reached, sobs could be heard throughout the church. Only Narcissa's voice was heard as she finished the last lines:

Let me hasten
Far in heathen lands to dwell.

The call had finally been heard. The Whitmans began the long trip to the land beyond the Rockies.


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Last Modified: Sat, Sep 28 2002 10:00:00 pm PDT

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