Thursday, November 29, 2018

Reverend Henry Spalding Establishes Presbyterian Mission at Lapwai [otd 11/29]

Henry Harmon Spalding.
National Park Service.
On November 29, 1836, Henry Harmon Spalding established a Presbyterian mission among the Nez Percés Indians. The initial location was on Lapwai Creek about 10 miles east of today's Lewiston. Two years later Spalding moved the mission to a spot on the Clearwater River near the mouth of Lapwai Creek.

Born in New York state, Henry was in his early thirties when he built the mission. After graduation from Western Reserve College (now part of Case Western Reserve University), he entered a seminary in Cincinnati. Spalding left, however, when he was appointed as a missionary to the Nez Percés.

Eliza (Hart) Spalding, born in Connecticut, was three or four years younger than Henry. The family moved to Oneida County, New York, in 1820. Henry and Eliza met through a mutual acquaintance and corresponded for a year or so before they met. Their common interest in missionary work matured the relationship and they married in 1833.

Three years later, Henry and Eliza traveled west with Marcus Whitman and his wife Narcissa [blog, Aug 12]. They accompanied an American Fur Company supply column led by Thomas Fitzpatrick, whom Whitman had met the year before. Thus, along the way, the couples attended the 1836 fur trade rendezvous on the Green River, in Wyoming. There, they caused a sensation because, while they were not the first missionaries to attend a rendezvous, they were the first who brought their wives.

The missionaries continued on to the Columbia River, obtained supplies from Fort Vancouver, and then separated. The Whitmans built a mission near today’s Walla Walla, Washington, while the Spaldings established theirs at Lapwai. It was difficult and costly to supply the Lapwai mission, so the settlement developed slowly.

That improved somewhat when, toward the end of 1838, the missionaries opened a blacksmith shop. During the heat of one summer, Spalding turned the natives to digging ditches for irrigation. Thus, the mission is credited with the first irrigated farming in what would become the state of Idaho. Crops grown included potatoes, another first.
Nez Percé Bible. University of Idaho Special Collections.

Spalding also procured a printing press and began publishing materials in the Nez Percés language, including the Bible. When Oregon pioneer Joel Palmer [blog, August 23] visited the mission in 1846, he noted that some Indians had learned to read, and print, well enough to make copies of some Bible passages.

Unfortunately, Henry had strict Puritanical notions of morality: Polygamy (fornication, to him), liquor, and gambling were all equally sinful. His tactless denunciations angered the Indians, and created friction with other missionaries who took a more gradual approach to converting native ways. That was perhaps why Palmer found the mission short of help to handle the work that needed to be done.

The 1847 massacre – ironically, also on November 29 – at the Whitman mission in Washington caused a suspension of both operations. Spalding was on his way to visit the mission when the killings occurred. Henry escaped death only through the intervention of a Roman Catholic priest … a crowning irony since Spalding was vehemently anti-“Papist.”

The Spaldings moved to Oregon, where they settled for a time. Eliza died in 1851 and Henry remarried two years later. He again served as missionary to the Nez Percés after about 1859, and resumed activities at Lapwai in 1862.

After a sojourn in the East around 1870, Spalding returned in 1871 to build a new school among the Nez Percés. He died in August 1874.
References: [B&W], [Brit], [Illust-North]
Malcom Clark, Eden Seekers: The Settlement of Oregon, 1818-1862, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York (1981).
“Lapwai Mission,” Nez Perce National Historical Park, National Park Service.
Joel Palmer, Journal of Travels over the Rocky Mountains, 1845-1846, reprinted, Reuben Gold Thwaites (ed)., in Early Western Travels, Vol.  XXX, Arthur H. Clark Company, Cleveland (1906).
“Spalding’s Mission,” Reference Series No. 945, Idaho State Historical Society (January 1993).

1 comment:

  1. I am writing a book about Henry Spalding and his family about their lives after the Whitman Massacre. Keep an eye out for it!