The Mission for Oregon

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Chief White Swan of the Yakimas

Chief White Swan, 1900

Their Works Do Follow Them [1]
White Swan, chief of the Yakimas in an address before the Methodist Congress held in Portland during the Lewis & Clark Exposition, 1905, said:

"If you ask me question, 'Have you seen Jason Lee, the first missionary?' I answer, 'Yes, I saw him.' Some ask, 'How old are you, White Swan?' and I answer, 'I am 86. I was old enough to understand everything, and this missionary he baptize me at that time,' and from that time I join the church camp meeting at Wascopam--The Dalles.

"When he started to work, he sent ten Indians from place to place to ask other Indians to come to camp meeting, and all the different tribes came together. Then he buy dry salmon and other things for the camp meeting and put them in one tent forty feet or more. That was the first time we saw wheel cart; he sent two men to haul wood for the Indians came all around, different tribes and they make seats to have the different tribes together.

"In the middle he make a place for himself to preach and read the Bible on a little table. He spoke through three interpreters for each tribe at that time, while he was preaching. It seems to me the missionary spoke strong words when he opened the Bible to speak to the Indians.

"While Lee was preaching the Indian chiefs sat smoking, not caring to hear the gospel. Three or four days while he was preaching all women and chiefs felt different just like something had melted and hot had come down, and they throw away their tomahawks and caps--war bonnets--and fall down and ask God to forgive them. People were surprised to see what kind of spirit came down, and then they look at each other and all see the tears run down each other's faces, and then all fall down and worship God. They used to feel all right but found now that they were not right inside. The would look at one another, and after awhile they would join the church, and then raise up as one nation. At that time Jason Lee learn first the Indian language and after a few months he never used an interpreter, he just preached himself. After the camp meeting closed he showed them how Christ used to do and sent them two by two among the rocks to pray, and the Indians used to pray just like birds singing among the trees.

"That is the way this first missionary worked for the Indians. White Swan is true witness. I saw and heard him myself.

"Truly this missionary brought light to the dark place for the Indian. He stops the fire (fight). After that all the Indian tribes never fall together against the white people, they were friendly after that, but the Indians who had not heard the gospel were unfriendly."

1. Lee, Jason. "Memorial Services at Re-internment of Remains of Rev. Jason Lee." Salem: Salem Public Library, 1906; pg. 64.

Unacknowledged Ghosts

...In the early [eighteen] sixties much of the ground was covered by a growth of sturdy young oaks shielding many graves of Indian children, members of the Mission school. Here also were interred some of the early settlers near Salem, the graves of 'a few marked by marble head stones, others in wooden enclosures and others unmarked and almost obliterated under the fall of decay and vegetation.' In later years all the old missionaries, who remained in Oregon, found sepulture [in the cemetery].... [1]

In this entry I had spoken with a man who claimed to have experienced the paranormal in the Lee Mission Cemetery. Could these unmarked graves be the source?

Perhaps the names are recorded somewhere of the young Native American students--ones who were quickly converted, civilized, and consumed by Western exposure.

1. Lee, Jason. "Memorial Services at Re-internment of Remains of Rev. Jason Lee." Salem: Salem Public Library, 1906; pg. 58.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

From 1906: Fenton

Jason Lee's first wife, Pittman, was a woman confident in her own purpose. Like many missionaries of every age, she was convinced that devotion to the field God calls one to is the only and most fullfilling place (since a spouse would be engaged in the same consuming ministry) where one might possibly enter into marriage.

She left for Oregon with a small second wave of missionaries sent in 1836 to aid Jason Lee in Salem. Did she possibly become aware even as she left, that by engaging into that work he began, she would also engage her life with his?

From "Jason Lee's Prophetic Vision," the eulogy of Hon. W. D. Fenton[1]:

And here I may be permitted to pay a word of tribute to the woman who gave her life as a sacrifice to the work of Jason Lee. By the courtesy of Miss Anna Pittman, a niece of Anna Maria Pittman, the first wife of Jason Lee, I have been permitted to read several autograph letters written by Mrs. Lee before she was married and while she was preparing to come to Oregon. In her last letter of date June 9, 1836, written from New York to her brother, George W. Pittman..., she says:

I have taken my pen in hand to address you for the last time. The time is drawing nigh when I must bid a long farewell to all I love. I quit the scene of my youth, the land of my birth, and in a far and distant land among strangers I expect to dwell. Soon the rolling billows of the tempestuous ocean, and the towering mountain's rugged steep, will intervene between us, and perhaps we see each other's faces no more. As the hour approaches for my departure, I still remain firm and undaunted; I have nothing to fear, God has promised to be with me even to the end of the world. Dear brother, farewell, may Heaven bless you, and oh remember your sister who goes not to seek the honours and pleasures of the world, but lays her life a willing sacrifice upon the altar of God.

This letter written in a bold and firm hand and signed Anna Maria Pittman breathes the spirit of the martyr. In a postscript to the letter she says:

In the ship Hamilton we leave Boston the 1st of July. The mission family will be in this city the 20th of June when a farewell missionary meeting will be held. We will leave sometime that week. The number is nine, five are females, three are married.

She came and paid the sacrifice with her life. She was married to Jason Lee on the 16th day of July, 1837, not far from where Salem now stands. She died on the 26th of June, 1838, and is buried in the old mission cemetery. In that sacred spot where we are about to re-inter all that is mortal of Jason Lee lies buried the wife of his youth and the infant son for whose birth her life was a sacrifice, the first white child born in the state of Oregon, the first white woman married, and as Mr. Gill has so well said, "The first to die in the Oregon Country." Upon her tombstone you will read today at Mission Cemetery, Salem, these words: "Beneath this sod, the first ever broken in Oregon for the reception of white mother and child, lie the remains of Anna Maria Pittman Lee." This man and this woman together will sleep at last. The work which they did has outlived them. She in her sphere, and he in his performed well their part. Jason Lee was by birth, education and training a devout enthusiast and loyal patriot and the prophet of a new state. His life illustrates again the truth of the statement that to achieve success there must be a single purpose, and energies must not be wasted or dissipated in attempting to do well more than one thing.

There is always room for a man of force and he makes room for many. Society is a troop of thinkers and the best heads among these take the best places. A feeble man can see the farms that are fenced and tilled, the houses that are built. The strong man sees the possible houses and farms. His eye makes estates as fast as the sun breeds clouds.

This photo is from the centennial celebration in Salem, Oregon, in July, nineteen-hundred and forty. Oliver Huston portrays Reverend Jason Lee and Mrs. O. K. Paulus portrays his wife, Anna Maria Pittman. Source: Salem, Oregon Public Library Historic Photograph Collections

1. Lee, Jason. "Memorial Services at Re-internment of Remains of Rev. Jason Lee." Salem: Salem Public Library, 1906; pp.16-17.

Religion and Politics

He was relieved of his post by the Methodist church because of his involvement in politics. In this and the last post we can begin to construct an understanding of the double-mindedness Jason Lee held shortly after starting a mission in Oregon among the Natives.

According to W. D. Fenton, President of the Oregon Historical Society, Lee held the one mission officially and the other in secret:

While his first and dominating purpose was the work of the mission, he saw at once the possibilities of government and its close relation to the cause in which he was ostensibly and directly engaged. He prepared a petition and forwarded the same to Congress, and Caleb Cushing, of Massachusetts, requested further information from him. Lee had returned to New England, and on January 17, 1839, wrote from Middletown, Conn., that there were in Oregon, belonging to the Methodist mission, 25 persons of all ages and both sexes who would shortly be reinforced by 45 others, making 70. ....

The memorial drawn up before Lee left Oregon was presented to the Senate by Linn of Missouri, on January 28, 1839, and on December 11, 1838, Linn, as you will recall, had introduced a bill in the Senate for the occupation of the Columbia, or Oregon River, and to organize a territory north of 42 degrees and west of the Rocky Mountains to be called Oregon Territory. This measure also provided for the establishment of a port of entry, and the extension of the revenue laws of the United States over the country. Senator Linn followed this formal action on his part by a speech on the 22nd of February, 1839, supporting a bill to provide for the protection of of citizens of the United States then in the Territory of Oregon or trading on the Columbia River. It is a matter of history that Jason Lee was the unseen hand behind this first active effort at Washington, and he was regarded in a special sense as the non-commissioned representative of the Government of the United States.

At this time an appropriation of considerable money from the secret service fund of the United States was made for the charter of the ship Lausanne. This was known only to Jason Lee, and was not revealed or disclosed until the boundary question was settled between the United States and Great Britain by the Ashburton treaty of June 15, 1846. [1]

He died retaining this secret to his death, which only history and time revealed.

Sixty-one years passed and the recount of his alleged infidelity to the Christian mission did not keep by those who spoke of him. He was seen instead as a hero for both purposes. How would we think of this kind of missionary by today's standards?

1. Lee, Jason. "Memorial Services at Re-internment of Remains of Rev. Jason Lee." Salem: Salem Public Library, 1906; pg. 12.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

From 1906: Moreland

The eulogy of Hon. J.C. Moreland[1]:

In accordance with the directions of the Oregon Pioneer Society expressed at its meeting a year ago, we have met here in this city that he founded to pay tribute to the memory of Oregon's first and greatest American pioneer, Jason Lee. He came solely as a missionary to the Indians. He soon saw the possibilities and the vast resources and the great value of this country. He was a strong patriot, ardently attached to the flag of the nation which his father had fought so long to free from allegiance to the British crown.

He soon saw that when the final settlement of the ownership of this country between this nation and Great Britain then held under treaty of joint occupation should come, that ownership would largely be determined by the citizenship of its settlers.

The work that he did to colonize the country with American citizens under the trying difficulties of the situation proved of incalculable value. In arousing the authorities in Washington to the value of the Oregon country his work and the information that he gave contributed in a large measure to the final happy result.

Jason Lee was a remarkable man -- of great determination and wonderful foresight, but like others of the great benefactors of his race, he was not understood in his time. Through ignorance of the situation, his church dismissed him from the control of its affairs here, most unjustly and cruelly. But he could safely trust his appeal to that unerring tribunal -- truth and time.

His vindication has come -- the church has acknowledged its mistake, and today his bones will be laid in final sepulture in the cemetery he selected 70 years ago, with all the honors that the church can bestow; and all people in this great Oregon country pay homage to his memory.

In the time that tried men's souls he was true and faithful and the impartial verdict of history will be that of all those who lie buried in this fair land 'none had greater glory though there be many dead and much glory.'

1. Lee, Jason. "Memorial Services at Re-internment of Remains of Rev. Jason Lee." Salem: Salem Public Library, 1906; pg. 9.

Monday, December 17, 2007

From 1906: Boise

Taken from the address "Earliest of the Pioneers"[1] given by the Hon. Reuben P. Boise:

"He died at his work for Oregon in another distant State and was buried there, far away from the fields of his labors, and now, when the members of this church, which he founded, who with grateful hearts revere his sacred memory, have returned his remains to this scene of his active life, we with reverent hands commit his ashes to final sepulture beneath the green sod of Oregon in the beautiful cemetery which bears his name, to rest beside his family and coworkers in the mission, where the spreading oak casts its grateful shade and the snow-capped mountains look down in wild and solemn grandeur."

Source: Salem (Oregon) Public Library Historic Photograph Collections

The above photograph is taken in the 1890s at 960 Broadway St., Salem. Reuben Boise is seen here with his second wife on the left and one of his daughters on the right. They stand in front of the former home of Jason Lee, the first house built in Salem. Several years after Jason Lee passed away the house became the homestead of a successful farm just north of modern downtown Salem. In 1870 Boise purchased it, but over time he sold the land into plots and divided it into subdivisions. He was still living there when he died in 1907. Reuben Boise was, among many achievements, one of the compilers of the first book of laws governing the territory of Oregon[2].

1. Lee, Jason. "Memorial Services at Re-internment of Remains of Rev. Jason Lee." Salem: Salem Public Library, 1906; pg. 38.

2. Judicial History of Oregon

Coming Home

All the missionaries who did not abandon Oregon were buried in Oregon. All, but one.

In 1906, Rev. Jason Lee was finally reunited with his family and fellow missionaries. The previous year, a Mrs. Smith French proposed the idea to move his remains from Canada to the Lee Mission Cemetery.[1]

A committee of six oversaw the task, one of which was Lee's son-in-law, Mr. Francis H. Grubbs. Grubbs had never known his father-in-law personally. What's more, his wife, Jason Lee's daughter, was only three years old when news was first sent that her father had died on the other side of the North American continent.

She never knew her father personally -- and had died a quarter of a century prior to his coming home.

From right to left: Jason Lee, Francis Grubbs, Lucy Lee Grubbs, and her mother Lucy Thompson Lee

Jason Lee's son-in-law and daughter

The day of his re-internment, June 15th, was impressive. On State St. at the Methodist Church Lee founded, there were services at ten, one, and eight o'clock; and the re-internment service itself was in the cemetery, at three-thirty.[1] There were 20 addresses in all given by prominent individuals from three states. A collection was put together by Grubbs of the day's words in the form of a book. In the beginning of the book he writes a short introduction, and then on page eight there is a beautifully-written article that claims no authorship. I assume it was also written by Grubbs. From that piece:

Echoes from the Past
The eulogies upon this occasion followed history closely; but the glamour of romance is over the simple facts of the life of this early missionary. Far and far away are the echoes from the endeavor of those times. They tell of the human experiences of a devoted band of men and women in a beautiful wilderness; of the vicissitudes of life and death as they come everywhere and to all; of the disappointments that belong to the common lot wherever that lot is cast and of the triumph of faith and hope and love over all obstacles.

1. Lee, Jason. "Memorial Services at Re-internment of Remains of Rev. Jason Lee." Salem: Salem Public Library, 1906; pg. 8.