Letters of Mrs. Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, 1836


  • Platte River just above the Forks June 3rd 1836.
  • Platte River, South Side, six days above the Fort Laramie Fork, near the foot of the Rocky Mountains, June 27, 1836.
  • Rendezvous Beyond the R. Mountains July 15th, 1836.
  • July 19th

  • Platte River just above the Forks June 3rd 1836

    Dear Sister Harriet and Brother Edward.

    Friday eve 6 o'clock. We have just encamped for the night near the bluffs over against the river the bottoms are a soft wet plain and we were obliged to leave the river yesterday morning for the bluffs. The face of the country yesterday afternoon and today has been rolling sand bluffs mostly barren quite unlike what our eyes have been satiated with for weeks past No timber nearer than the Platte, and the water tonight is very bad, got from a small ravine we have usually had good water previous to this. Our fuel for cooking since we left timber (no timber except on rivers) has been dried Buffalo dung. We now find plenty of it and it answers a very good purpose simaller to the kind of coal used in Pennsylvania (I suppose now Harriet will make up a face at this, but if she was here she would be glad to have her supper cooked at any rate, in this scarce timber country) The present time in our journey is a very important one the hunter brought us buffalo meet Yesterday for the first that has been seen today to have been taken. We have some for supper tonight. Husband is cooking it no one of our company professes the art but himself. I expect it will be very good. stop I have so much to say to you children, that I do not know in what part of my story to begin, (I have very little time to write) I will first tell you what our company consists off we are ten in number five missionaries, three Indian boys and two young men employed to assist in packing animals.

    Sab 4 Good Morn H & E I wrote last night till supper, after that it was so dark I could not see. I told you how many bipeds there was in our company last night now for the quadrupeds - 14 horses and six mules and fifteen head of Cattle. we milk four cows we started with seventeen but we have killed one calf and the Fur Company being out of provision have taken one of our cows for beaf it is usually pinching times with the company before they reach the buffalo, we have had a plenty because we made ample provision -- at Liberty we purchased a barrell of flour and baked enough to last us with killing a calf or two untill we reach the buffalo. The fur Com is large this year, we are really a moving village, nearly four hundred animals with ours mostly mules, and seventy men the fur Com have seven wagons and one cart, drawn by six mules each, heavily loaded, the cart drawn by two mules carries a lame man one of the proprietors of the com. we have two waggons in our com. Mr & Mrs S and Husband and myself ride on one Mr Gray and the baggage in the other our Indian boys drive the cows and Dulin the horses. Young Miles leads our forward horses-four in each team. Now E if you wish to see the camp in motion look away ahead and see first the pilot and the Captain Fitzpatrick just before him - next the pack animals, all mules loaded with great packs soon after you will see the waggons and in the rear our company we all cover quite a space. The pack mules always string along one after the other just like Indians. There are several gentlemen in the Com who are going over the Mountains for pleasure, Capt Stewart - Mr Lee speaks of him in his journal he went over when he did and returned he is an Englishman - Mr. Celan. We had a few of them to tea with us last Monday eve, Capts Fitzpatrick Stewart Maj Harris and Celam. I wish I could discribe to you how we live so that you can realize it. Our manner of living is far prefferable to any in the States I never was so contented and happy before. Neither have I enjoyed such health for years. In the Morn as soon as the day breaks the first that we bear is the word --- arise, arise, then the mules set up such noise as you never heard which puts the whole camp in motion. We encamp in a large ring, baggage and men tents and waggons on the outside and all the animals except the cows are fastened to pickets within the circle. This arrangement is to accommodate the guard who stand regularly every night and day also when we are not in motion, to protect our animals from the approach of Indians who would steal them. as I said the mules noise brings every man on his feet to loose them and turn them out to feed.

    Now H & E you must think it very hard to have to get up so early after sleeping on the soft ground, when you find it hard work to open your eyes at seven o'clock just think of me every morn at the word arise we all spring. While the horses are feeding we get our breakfast in a hurry and eat it by this time the word catch up--catch up rings throu' the camp for moveing we are ready to start usually at six travel till eleven encamp rest and feed start again about two travel untill six or before if we come to a good tavern, then encamp for the night.

    Since we have been in the prairie we have done all our cooking when we left Liberty we expected to take bread to last us part: of the way but could not get enough to carry us any distance we found it awkward work to bake at first out of doors but we have become so accustomed to now we do it very easy. Tell Mother I am a very good housekeeper in the prairie I wish she could just take a peap at us while we are sitting at our meals, our table is the ground our table cloth is an India rubber cloth and when it rains as a cloak our dishes are made of tin, tin basen for tea cups, iron spoons and plates each of us and several pans for milk and to put our meat in when we wish to set it on the table --- each one carries his own knife in his scabbard and it is always ready for use when the table things spread after makeing our forks of sticks and helping our selves to Chairs we gather arround the table Husband always provides my seat and in a way that you, would laugh to see us it is the fashon of all this country to imitate the Turks Mr Dunbar and Allis have supped with us and they do the same. We take a blanket and lay down by the table and those whose joints will let them follow the fashon, others take out some of the baggage (I suppose you know that there is no [stone] in this country not 2 stone have I seen of any size on the prairie) for my part I fix myself as gracefully as I can some times on a blanket some times on a box just as it is convenient let me assure you of this we relish our food none the less for siting on the ground while eating. We have tea and a plenty of milk which is a luxury in this country our milk has assisted us very much in making our bread since we have been journeying while the fur company has felt the want of food our milk has been of great service to us, but was considerable work for us to supply ten persons with bread three times a day Now we done using it now what little flour we have left we shall reserve for thickening our broth which is excelent I never saw anything like buffalo meat to satisfy hunger we do not want anything else with it I have eat three meals of it and it realishes well Supper and breakfast we eat in our tent we do not pitch it at noon, have worship immediately after sup & breakfast

    Noon. The face of the country today has been like that of yesterday. We are now about 30 miles above the forks and leaving the bluffs for the river. We have seen wonders this forenoon herds of buffalo have hove in sight one, a bull, crossed our trail and ran upon the bluffs near the rear of the camp We took the trouble to chase him so as to have a near view Sister Spaulding and myself got out of the waggon and ran up on the bluff to see him. Husband was quite willing to ratify our curiosity seeing it was the first. Several have been killed this forenoon. The company keep a man out all the time to hunt for the camps.

    Edward if I write much more in this way I do not know as you can read it without great difficulty. I could tell you much more but we are all ready to move again so fare well for the present I wish you were all here with us going to the dear Indians I have become very much attached to Richard Tak ah too ah tis, the one you saw at our weding he call me mother I love to teach him to take care of him and hear them talk. there is five Nez Perces in the company and when they are together they chatter freely. Samuel Temone the oldest one has just come in to the camp with the skin and a some of the meat of a buffalo which he has killed himself he started this forenoon of his own accord it is what they like dearly to hunt buffalo so long as we have him with us we shall be supplyed with meat

    I am now writing backwards. Monday Morn I begun to say something here that I could not finish Now the man from the mountains has come who will take this to the office. I have commenced one to Bro & Sister Hull which I should like to send this time if I could finish it We have just met him and we have stoped our waggons to write a little Give my love to all

    I have not told you half I want to we are all in health this morn and makeing rappid progress in our journey by the fourth of July our Cap intends to be at the place where Mr Parker and husband parted last fall. We are a month earlier passing here than they were last spring husband has begun a letter to pa and ma and since he has cut his finger so that it troubles him to write to the rest this is done in a hurry I no not know as you can read it Tell mother if I had looked the world over I could not have found one more careful and better quallified to transport a female such a distance. farewell all

    NARCISSA PRENTISS

    Husband says stop.


    Platte River, South Side, six days above the Fort Laramie Fork, near the foot of the Rocky Mountains, June 27, 1836.

    Dear Brother and Sister Whitman: - We were in perplexity when we left Liberty, but it has been overruled for good. I wrote Mother Loomis from the Otoe Agency. We were in still greater perplexity there, while crossing our baggage. Husband became so completely exhausted with swimming the river on Thursday, May 9th, that it was with difficulty he made the shore the last time. Mr. Spaulding was sick, our two hired men were good for nothing; we could not obtain much assistance from the Otoes, for they were away from the village; we had but one canoe, made of skins, and that partly eaten by the dogs the night before. We got everything over by Friday night. We did not get ready to start until Saturday afternoon. By this time the company had four and a half days the advance of us. It seemed scarcely possible for us to overtake them, we having two more difficult streams to pass, before they would pass the Pawnee villages. Beyond there we dare not venture more than one day. We were at a stand; but with the advise of brethren Merrill and Dunbar after a concert of prayer on the subject, we decided to start and go as far as it would be prudent for us. Brother Dunbar kindly consented to become our pilot, until we could get another. He started with us and came as far as the Elkhorn river, then the man Major Dougherty sent for, for us, came Up, and Mr. Dunbar returned. We had passed the river on Monday morning and taken down the rope, when our pilot and his Indian came up. It was with difficulty we crossed him and returned Mr. Dunbar. While on the opposite shore, just ready to leave us, he called to us to receive his parting advice, with a word of caution which will never be forgotten. Our visit with him and Brother Merrill's family was indeed refreshing to our thirsty spirits - kindred spirits rejoicing in the self denials and labors of missionary life.

    The next day, in the morning, we met a large party of Pawnees going to the fort to receive their annuities. They seemed to be very much surprised and pleased to see white females, many of them bad never seen any before. They are a noble Indian-large, athletic forms, dignified countenances, bespeaking an immortal existence within. When we had said what we wished to them, we hurried on, and arrived at the Elkhorn in time to cross all our effects.

    Here I must tell you how much good Richard, John and Samuel did us. They do the most of driving the cattle and loose horses. Occasionally husband and myself would ride with them as company and encouragement. They came up to the river before us, and seeing a skin canoe on the opposite side, they stripped themselves, wound their shirts around their heads, and swam over and back again with the canoe by the time we came up. We stretched a rope across the river and pulled the goods over in the canoe without much difficulty.

    Monday and Tuesday we made hard drives - Tuesday especially. We attempeted to reach the Loup Fork that night, and a part of us succeeded. Those in the wagons drove there by 11 o'clock, but it was too much for the cattle. There was no water or feed short of this. We rode with Richard and John until 9 o'clock, and were all very much fatigued. Richard proposed to us to go on and he and John would stay on the prairie with the cattle, and drive them in in the morning. We did not like to leave them, and so we concluded to stay. Husband had a cup tied to his saddle, in which he milked what we wanted to drink; this was our supper. Our saddle blankets, with our India rubber cloaks, were our beds. Having offered up our thanksgiving for the blessings of the day and seeking protection for the night, we committed ourselves to rest. We awoke in the morning much refreshed and rode into camp before breakfast-five miles. The Fur Company was on the opposite side of the river, which we forded, and, without unloading our wagon much, were ready to move again about noon. We wished to be with the company when they passed the Pawnee village. This obliged us to make a day's drive to the camp in half a day, which was too bad for our horses. We did not reach them until 1 o'clock at night.

    The next day we passed all their villages. We, especially, were visited by them both at noon and at night; we ladies were such a curiosity to them. They would come and stand around our tent, peep in, and grin in their astonishment to see such looking objects.

    Since we came up with the camp, I rode in the wagons most of the way to the Black Hills. It is astonishing how well we get along with our wagons where there are no roads. I think I may say it is easier traveling here than on any turnpike in the States.

    On the way to the buffalo country we had to bake bread for ten persons. It was difficult at first, as we did not understand working out-doors; but we became accustomed to it, so that it became quite easy. June found us ready to receive our first taste of buffalo. Since that time I have had but little to do with cooking. Not one in our number relishes buffalo meat as well as my husband and I. He has a different way for cooking every piece of meat. I believe Mother Loomis would give up to him if she were here. We have had no bread since. We have meat and tea in the morn, and tea and meat at noon. All our variety consists of the different ways of cooking. I relish it well and it agrees with me. My health is excellent. So long as I have buffalo meat I do not wish anything else. Sister Spaulding is affected by it considerably - has been quite sick.

    We feel that the Lord has blessed us beyond our most sanguine expectations. We wish our friends at borne to unite with us in thanksgiving and praise for His great mercies to us. We are a month earlier this year than husband was last, and the company wish to be at Rendezvous by the 4th of July. We have just crossed the river and shall leave here to-morrow morning.

    Now, Sister Julia, between you and me, I just want to tell you how much trouble I have had with Marcus, two or three weeks past. He was under the impression that we had too much baggage, and could not think of anything so easy to be dispensed with as his own wearing apparel - those shirts the ladies made him just before he left home, his black suit and overcoat - these were the condemned articles. Sell them he must, as soon as he gets to the fort. But first I would not believe him in earnest. All the reasons I could bring were of no avail - he still said he must get rid of them. I told him to sell all of mine, too; I could do without them better than he could. Indeed, I did not wish to dress unless he could. I finally said that I would write and get Sister Julia to plead for me, for I knew you would not like to have him sell them, better than I should. This was enough; he knew it would not do to act contrary to her wishes, and said no more about it.

    July 15th When I wrote this letter I expected an opportunity to send it immediately but we did not meet the party we expected and have had no opportunity since. We are now West of the Rocky Mountains at the encampment Messrs. McLeod & McCay expecting to leave here on Monday for Walla Walla. It seems a special favour of Providence that that company has come to Rendezvous this season for we . . . to have gone with the Indians a difficult rou [te and] slow that we should have been late at Walla Walla and [not have had] the time we wanted for making preparations for winter. Hus [band has] written the particulars concerning our arrival, meeting the Indians, & c-to Brother Henry.

    One particular I will mention which he did not. As soon as I alighted from my horse I was met by a company of matron women. One after another shaking hands and salluting me with a most hearty kiss. This was unexpected and affected me very much. They gave Sister Spaulding the same salutation. After we had been seated awhile in the midst of the gazing throng, one of the chiefs whom we had seen before came with his wife and very politely introduced her to us. They say they all like us very much and thank God that they have seen us, and that we have come to live with them.

    It was truly pleasing to see the meeting of Richard and John with their friends. Richard was affected to tears, his father is not here but several of his . . . and Brothers. When they met each took off his hat and shook bands as respectful as in civilized life. Richard does not give up the idea of seeing again Rushville. I must close for want of room. Please give my love to Deborah and Harriet and all other friends. I hope you will all write us now as husband has given directions how to send. Remember me affectionately Sister Alice. Tell her to write us immediately. We want to hear from you all.

    Your affectionate sister, NARCISSA WHITMAN.

    Rendezvous Beyond the R. Mountains July 15th, 1836.

    Dear Brothers and Sisters.

    Last week I filled a letter for father and mother stating particulars up to that time. I said but little about the future. It was undetermined what we should do. We soon heard however that there was a Company from the Columbia river near at hand. Monday the 11th they came within ten miles of us & encamped. On Tuesday Mr. McLeod one of the principle traders in the N West Fur Co. came into our camp & gave us very satisfactory inteligence concerning Mr. Parker. Also a letter from him advising us to go to Walla Walla in company with them in preference to the Indians. Mr. Parker went with them alone last year after he left here. They took a very difficult route on account of finding Buffalo & traveled very slow so that it made his arrival at Vancouver quite late. He came on his way to meet us at Rendezvous to Cooscoosky river little this side of Wallah Wallah with a party of Nez Perces early in May. When there they would not consent to come by Bear river but wished to make the same difficult route they did last fall for the same reason to make meat.

    Mr. Parker thot that he would have to encounter considerable snow it was so early & having heard that our Company would be at Rendezvous by the first of July feared he should not arrive in season to go over with them accepted an offer of the H.B. Co. to take passage on board of one of their ships to England. He returned immediately to Wallah Wallah. But before he leaves intended to make another exploring tour up what is called Clarks river between 200 and 300 miles in company with some men of the H.B.Com. He will not leave for home untill September quite probable we shall see him before he leaves For Mr. McLeod's Co. will have to make returns before the ship sails. Mr. Parker will have to visit England for the ship will not enter any of our eastern ports. We highly approve of this plan although we are very much disappointed in not seeing him here It will be much easier for him after having endured the fatigue of a tour over the country After considering the subject we concluded to follow the advise of Mr. Parker & put ourselves under the protection of N.W.Co. Mr. McLeod kindly invited us to return to his camp as soon as practicable Accordingly yesterday we took leave of the Eastern Company who had shown us every kindness possible and removed together with the Nez Perces and Flat Head to his camp On our arrival Mr McL came to meet us led us to his tent & gave us a supper which consisted of steak (Antelope) broiled ham biscuit & butter tea and loaf sugar brot from Wallah Wallah This we rellished verry much as we had not seen anything of the bread kind since the last of May Especially sister Spalding who has found it quite difficult to eat meat some time

    We learn from Mr. McLeod much that is interesting about our future home

    Mr. Parker has been verry much pleased with his situation at Vancover during the winter he has been as comfortably situated as if he had been at home.

    He told us we should not want for supplies at Wallah Wallah. The Company have a verry large [farm] at Vancover which produced three thousands bushels of wheat last year and other crops in proportion.

    They have apples pears peaches & grapes in abundance & every kind of vegetables necessary for comfort which we find in our own beloved land. When we arrive at Wallah Wallah we are assured of a treat of ripe watermellons & mushmelons. They have a farm at Caldwell [Colville] also which is on the north branch of the Columbia five days ride above Wallah Wallah where they raise an abundance grain and have a flouring mill. From this post Wallah Wallah is suplied with flour by water. Vancover is 130 miles from the ocean & Walla Walla 250 above Vancover.

    We are recomended to a situation on the Coos Coosky river at it junction with the Lewis about three days ride from Walla Walla.

    At Fort Hall about fifteen days ride from here they have green peas This establishment belongs to a man formally from Boston.

    It will take us 35 days at least to go from here to Walla Walla if not longer

    We have succeded in bringing our waggon so far but with considerable difficulty for the last few days. Whether we shall succeed in getting it through is doubtful. We intend to try and go with it as far as we can. We want to take it on for the benefit it will be to us when we get there

    While passing the Mountains we came over some verry frightful looking places & the Hill were so steep that it was difficult riding them. The steepest point of Mount pleasant in Prattsburgh would be verry easy decending compared with some of these rugged places. And in crossing rivers we find it not difficult to ford them The Green river is the deepest we have forded on horseback.

    Mr. McLeod say the Messrs Lees are doing verry well one of them has been verry much out of health & was advised to take a journey to Oahu He went there last October and is expected to return this fall

    Vessels sail from Oahu to Vancouver frequently during the year & we shall have an opportunity of hearing from home through that channel. Letters sent to Mr. Green Boston post paid directed to Columbia river near Walla Walla by the way Oahu & Vancover We should get them regularly & oftener than any other way, There will be no security in sending them over the Mountains by the fur Company possibly we might get them but not oftener than once a year. We have not known what directions to give about our letters Now our friends can write us when they please and send to Boston & in the mean time we shall get them as easy as the sandwich islande missionaries do theirs. For ships come from Oahu to Vancover every two months during the year. My Dearest friends if you want to do us good write to us often You cannot know the comfort it will give us unless placed in like circumstances.

    We have improved every opportunity of writing and sending notwithstanding the excessive fatigue of our journey.

    July 17th Remember me affectionately to all the Brethren and Sisters in Christ with whom I have laboured in the Gospell long to hear of your faith & labours of love for His sake who has died for us - Is there no more in that church yea in my own dear family that can come & do these benighted souls good Oh that you were all here Father Mother & all.

    This is a cause worth living for - Wherever we go we find oppertunities of doing good-If we had packed one or two animals with bibles & testaments we should have had abundant oppertunity of disposing of them to the traders & trappers of the mountain who would have received them greatfully Many have come to us for tracts & bibles which we could not supply. We have given away all we have to spare. When they return from hunting they have leisure for reflection and reading if they have the means, which might result in the salvation of their souls. A missionary might do good in this field one who would be willing to come & live as they do

    Oh how many missionaries are wanted who wilt go into the highways & hedges & compel sinners to come in to the feast

    Before this reaches you we shall probably be at Walls Walla. We shall write by Mr Parker but it will be some time before it reaches you. We expect to leave here tomorrow for Walla Walla

    Brother Judson Husband said when he received your letter that he should write you, but he has not found time yet His hands are full continually The responsibility of every movement rests upon him & besides he has many calls for medical attention He unites with me in sending love to yourself & wife Father Mother Brothers Sisters & friends trust you will not forget to pray for us for we feel that we need your prayers now as ever Sisters Jane Clarissa & Harriet want to know what you are doing How does the Moral Reform cause get along at home the Anti Slavery &c Keep the numbers of the Advocate & send to Boston as you do your letters . . .

    Your sister NARCISSA

    July 19th

    Dear Mother. I have filled this sheet for sending once but since I closed I have heard so much about the West that I thought it best to write another and enclose [with] this. When we get to Walla Walla we shall feel as though we were in England. Most of men of the North West Company are from that country. They are expecting a Clergyman & his Lady from E. to settle at Vancouver. She refused to come by water around Cape Horn but chose to some to NY then to Montreal and join an expedition of the Company to cross the Mountains much to the north of this then down Clarks river to Walla Walla. There is one lady at Vancouver who came from E. in the last voyage of the Com ship.

    Mother may rest easy about our wanting for the necessary of life. We have not suffered yet & judging from the hospitality of the Com. we are now with have no reason to think we shall. I am verry well and in great spirits. Pray for your absent daughter

    NARCISSA.

    Written upon the waggon.

    Whether we ever see each others faces again in this world again is uncertain. I often think of my Dear Parents but do not regret coming.

    As it will be a long time before you will hear from me again after we leave this place I bid you all My Beloved Parents, Brothers Sisters & Friends an affectionate farewell.

    NARCISSA WHITMAN.