On to Oregon: The Diaries of Mary Walker and Myra Eells

On to Oregon: The Diaries of Mary Walker and Myra Eells

On to Oregon: The Diaries of Mary Walker and Myra Eells

On to Oregon: The Diaries of Mary Walker and Myra Eells


In 1838, two missionary couples, the Walkers and the Eellses, joined the party going west as a reinforcement to the Oregon Mission. Just married when the trip began, Mary Walker and Myra Eells rode on horseback from Missouri to Oregon, keeping diaries throughout the months on the hazardous trail. After spending a winter at the Whitman mission in present-day Washington, the Walkers and Eellses moved north to do missionary work among the Spokane Indians. Throughout On to Oregon the presence of Myra Fairbanks Eells is deeply felt, but it is Mary Richardson Walker who will be remembered for perhaps the richest diary we have from a woman pioneering in the West.


Mina Carson

An intimate insight into the struggles, passions, andvery dailiness of family life lived under duress a century and a half ago: this is theincomparable gift of these diaries, yielded by personal archives lovinglypreserved. These two women, Mary Richardson Walker and her lessvoluble friend and colleague Myra Fairbanks Eells, offer a view frominside the Protestant mission to the Northwest Indians in the 1840s. Writtenprimarily for family members, these reflections on their experiences as women, wives,tourists, mothers, teachers, and missionaries create a larger sympatheticaudience, even among those today who recognize the ambiguous and oftendestructive cultural legacy of Euro-American religious enthusiasts onAmerican Indian communities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Several things distinguish the overland journey of theWalker and Eells families from the 350,000 similar stories over the next decade.First, these couples were among the very first white Americans to undertake thisarduous journey with the intention of settling on the West Coast andraising families. In the mid-1830s, the white presence in theOregon Territory consisted largely of men connected with the fur trade. (In fact, thesmall band of missionary wives to which Mary RichardsonWalker and Myra Eells belonged was cited by at least one emigration promoter as proof thatwomen could not only survive but flourish on the overland trail.)

Secondly, these emigrants went out asProtestant missionaries. They saw the American Indians primarily as subjectsfor religious conversion rather than primarily as impediments toappropriating and developing the rich resources of the Northwest. As many of us read these intimatedocuments today, we sometimes wince at the missionaries' assumptions ofcultural superiority and their presumptuous intervention in the Indians'habits and traditions of living. We recognize, too, the unique, if labored,closeness and familiarity these white families cultivated with theirindigenous neighbors, as well as their raw dependence on the Indians' knowledge ofthe area and continued good will toward these interlopers. The massacreof the Whitmans and their cohorts at the Waiilatpumission--the Walkers' sister mission--in 1848 brought this era to an end as itoffered bloody testimony . . .

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