WHITMAN MISSION NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
WHITMAN MISSION NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
328 Whitman Mission Road
Walla Walla, Washington 99362
This site commemorates the courage of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, the role the Whitmans played in establishing the Oregon Trail, and the challenges encountered when two different cultures meet.
In 1836, before the wagon trains, a small intrepid group of Presbyterian missionaries traveled with the annual fur trapper?s caravan into ?Oregon Country.? Missionaries Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding became the first white women to travel across the continent. Differences in culture led to growing tensions between the Cayuse people and the Whitmans. Their mission became an important stop along the Oregon Trail, but passing immigrants added to the tension. A measles outbreak in 1847 killed half the local Cayuse. Some of the Cayuse blamed these deaths on Dr. Whitman. Dr. and Mrs. Whitman were killed; sixty people were taken hostage. The deaths of the Whitmans sent a shock wave across the country and prompted Congress to make Oregon a U.S. territory.
Whitman Mission is located in SE Washington, 7 miles west of Walla Walla, just off Hwy. 12.
On June 29, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation (Public Law 840, H.R. 7736) that established Whitman Mission at Waiilatpu as a unit of the National Park Service (NPS). The act stated the following:
"The property acquired under the provisions Section 1 of this Act shall constitute the Whitman National Monument and shall be a public national memorial to Marcus Whitman and his wife, Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, who here established their Indian mission and school, and ministered to the physical and spiritual needs of the Indians until massacred with twelve other persons in 1847."
The act stipulated that the site of the Whitman National Monument had to be acquired by gift, and included a right-of-way to the nearest highway, U. S. Highway 12. Although there was significant local support of the monument, acquiring the land by gift delayed establishment of the monument due primarily by the need to clear land titles. On January 20, 1940, the Secretary of Interior accepted clear title and 45.94 acres were deeded to the NPS. This included the Mission Grounds, Memorial Hill, and the Great Grave.
Actions Affecting Whitman Mission National Historic Site after Enabling Legislation
More acreage of the original mission land was needed to meet the objectives of the monument. On May 1, 1958, Public Law 985-388 authorized the purchase of an additional 46.71 acres located to the north of the original monument.
In 1961, 5.6 acres of land were transferred from Walla Walla County to the Federal Government to provide access from Highway 12 to the west side of the NHS. These two roads, the northern portion of Swegle and Whitman Mission Road, constitute the park entrance road and is owned and maintained by the United States of America.
One year later, on May 31, 1962, the name of the park was changed to Whitman Mission National Historic Site. The change in designation from a monument to a national historic site emphasized its historic significance and the need to address the entire historic setting as well as the existing memorials to the Whitmans.
In 1968, the National Trail System Act was passed (Public Law 80-543). This act contained authorization and criteria for establishing national trails. On November 10, 1978, the Oregon National Historic Trail was established (Public Law 85-625). With acceptance of the Comprehensive Management Use Plan for Oregon National Historic Trail (CMP) in 1981, Whitman Mission was officially recognized as a historic site along the Oregon Trail. The CMP states the importance of the National Historic Site:
The mission was established in 1836 by Dr. Marcus Whitman, a Presbyterian missionary. Whitman and his wife, Narcissa, along with Reverend Henry and Eliza Spalding, made the long overland journey to Oregon in 1836, helping to blaze what would become the Oregon Trail. They followed a route first used by fur traders and trappers, and their journey helped establish the possibility of using the trail as a major migration route. Mrs. Spalding and Mrs. Whitman were the first white women to travel on the trail, and their party was also the first to successfully use vehicles as far west as Fort Boise.
Designation as part of the Oregon Trail expanded the legislative purpose and significance of Whitman Mission National Historic Site beyond a memorial to the Whitmans as specified in the 1936 enabling legislation.
The purpose of the NPS Long Distance Trails Office (located in Salt Lake City, Utah) is to preserve and commemorate the history of the California, Pony Express, Mormon Pioneer, and Oregon National Historic trails and to coordinate the management of the four national historic trails.