The Mountains We Have Crossed: Diaries and Letters of the Oregon Mission, 1838

The Mountains We Have Crossed: Diaries and Letters of the Oregon Mission, 1838

The Mountains We Have Crossed: Diaries and Letters of the Oregon Mission, 1838

The Mountains We Have Crossed: Diaries and Letters of the Oregon Mission, 1838


Four newly wed couples, along with one single man, were sent to Oregon in 1838 to reinforce the two-year-old mission established by Marcus Whitman and Henry Spalding. These reinforcements were to become legendary in the history of the Pacific Northwest for the incessant bickering and petty jealousies that eventually caused the deaths of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and forced the abandonment of the mission effort.

Uncertainty and conflict as well as willpower and endurance mark the story of the Oregon Mission and its charismatic, though contentious, missionaries. Simply getting to Oregon in the 1830s was a feat. Once they arrived, their efforts were doomed by their inability to agree on strategies for converting the Nez Perce and Spokane Indians.

This Bison Books edition contains the very personal diary of Sarah Smith, "the weeping one" as the Indians remembered her. When read in chronological sequence with the nearly one hundred letters written by her husband, Asa, a compelling picture of their journey to Oregon and subsequent life at the mission emerges. Other letters, documents, and biographical sketches enhance the volume.


Bonnie Sue Lewis

When Presbyterian minister Clifford Drury gathered the letters and diaries of the first six women missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Mission's (ABCFM) Oregon mission, he could find no diary for the youngest member, Sarah Gilbert White Smith. Therefore, his two-volume work, originally entitled First White Women Over the Rockies, contained only eight pages on Sarah Smith based upon the four letters known to exist. With their publication, however, a descendent of Smith's alerted Drury to the existence of a copy of her diary in the Denver Public Library made by Sarah Smith's niece, Alice J. White. Released to Drury for publication, this diary became the basis for a third volume of the series and provides additional valuable source material concerning the overland journey and arrival in the Oregon Territory of these pioneer missionary women, their husbands, and the native peoples they hoped to serve and to save.

Much has been written of the frailties of the missionaries who set out in the early nineteenth century to bring Christianity and western civilization to the "benighted heathen" both overseas and in their own backyards. The missionary women have received special attention in recent works, such as Julie Roy Jeffrey's compelling look at Narcissa Whitman in Converting the West and Mary Zwiep engaging study of the Hawaiian missionary women in Pilgrim Path. Dana Robert American Missionary Women gives a sweeping overview of the roles missionary wives and single women played during an era of growing contact with native peoples. This timely republication of Drury's collection of firsthand accounts of the Oregon mission, primarily through the eyes of the women, will be welcomed by a new generation of historians who are revisiting the relationships between missionaries and Native Americans. It also strengthens the conclusion that the nature of nineteenth-century missions was far more complex than initially believed.

One of the more complicated issues of the Oregon mission was the personalities involved. The eighteen-month diary of Sarah Smith, published here and supplemented by several unpublished accounts and letters by the men of the mission, sheds light on the personality problems that became, in Drury's words, the Oregon mission's "great misfortune . . ."

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