The Whitman Myth
by Prin. Wm. I. Marshall
of Gladstone School, Chicago

The Hudson's Bay Company's Archives Furnish No Support
to the "Whitman Saved Oregon" Story

The very latest attempt to manufacture evidence to support the Whitman legend, and the boldest and most foolish, considering the ease with which its total falsity can be proved beyond any possibility of dispute, is the following.

Whether the responsibility for it rests entirely on Rev. Newell D. Hillis, or should be divided between him and Rev. S.B.L. Penrose, president of Whitman College, the reader must decide for himself.

November 3, 1904, the Walla Walla Daily Union [which is in very close relation with Whitman College], published an interview with President Penrose, stating, among other things, that he had attended the ten days' meeting of the Triennial Council of the Congregational Churches of the United States, at Des Moines, Iowa, in October, 1904, and continued,

"Whitman Saved Oregon."

"One of the greatest sensations of the Des Moines council was brought out in an address by Dr. Hillis. In speaking of the work of Marcus Whitman, Dr. Hillis placed him among the foremost of home missionaries. In regard to the Whitman controversy, he presented evidence that has never before been brought to light. While in Canada he had had an interview with a Canadian historian, who is president of the Presbyterian College at Winnipeg. This man has had access to the letters of the Hudson's Bay Company, which have hitherto been held in strict secrecy, and which give positive evidence that Marcus Whitman saved Oregon to the Union. The Hudson's Bay Company was Whitman's bitterest enemy and sought in every way to forestall his plans."

The extracts from the letters and journals of Whitman and his associates in the Oregon mission [most of them heretofore unpublished], in the chapter on "The Truth about the Relation of the Hudson's Bay Company to the American Exploration, Occupation and Settlement of the Oregon Territory," in my book [just finished] on "The History of the Acquisition of Oregon, and the Long Suppressed Evidence about Marcus Whitman," demonstrate beyond any possibility of doubt the total falsity of the above statement that "The Hudson's Bay Company was Whitman's bitterest enemy, and sought in every way to forestall his plans."

Could Not Have Been Inimical.

The simple facts are that the missions of the American Board to the Oregon Indians could not have been established, or maintained after they were established, if the Hudson's Bay Company had been inimical to them, and that Whitman and all his associates received from the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company at Forts Hall and Boise on the way out, and at Forts Vancouver, Walla Walla and Colville after they arrived at them, the kindest possible treatment, and were assisted not only in founding their mission stations, by gifts of seeds, and provisions and other necessaries, but were helped during the whole continuance of the mission in various ways, and were on the friendliest terms with the various officers of the company - McLeod, McKay, McKinlay, McLoughlin, Ermatinger, McDonald, Douglass, and John Lee Lewes, and others, during the whole existence of the mission.

All this nonsense about antagonism between Whitman and the Hudson's Bay Company is a part of the Whitman-saved-Oregon story, and is squarely contradictory to everything in their letters and journals while the mission existed.

Dr. Hillis Remains Silent.

Not being able for some weeks after reading this article to get hold of Dr. Hillis' sermon, and not wishing to be in the least degree unjust to him, I promptly wrote him a courteous letter, stating that the Walla Walla Union had stated that he had said in an address at the Des Moines Council that he had met a distinguished Canadian historian, who, in gathering material for a history of the Hudson's Bay Company, had found among the archives of the Hudson's Bay Company proof positive that Whitman had saved Oregon to the United States, and asking him if the Union had correctly reported him, and, if so, what was the name and post-office address of the said Canadian historian. I have sent him during the past ten weeks no less than four copies of this letter, and enclosing in each of them a stamped, directed envelope for reply, registering one of the letters to make certain that the address was correct, and that he received it, but he has made no reply, though he might have answered my two questions in ten words. He has also declined to answer similar letters of inquiry from Professor F.H. Hodder, of the University of Kansas, who is a well-known member of the American Historical Association.

Dr. Hillis' address at Des Moines was printed in the Home Missionary for December, 1904 [pp. 275-83], and on pp. 280-81 it reads as follows: "But now open to the pages of the Hudson's Bay Company - those splendid volumes published by Longmans and Green. Call that distinguished historian, their author, into the stand. He will tell you that the Hudson's Bay Company ruled Canada, once called Prince Rupert's Land; that they had the power of life and death, as well as of making laws, and that they controlled Western Canada, by their factors, like old Dr. McLoughlin, who was their great man on the Columbia River, and who watched Whitman and his moves and sent Indian runners with messages to Montreal. Last summer this distinguished historian said to me at a dinner: 'Your President did not understand the importance of Oregon and Washington; your Daniel Webster did not know about the country. My people thought they had it, and we would have the richest section of the Pacific Slope but for that missionary of yours, Marcus Whitman, who crossed the continent in winter, endured the pitiless rains and snows, swam his horse through stream and river midst floating ice, and startled Webster and the President by the story of the resources of the land we coveted.'"

This, with what President Penrose said about the Canadian historian being the president of the Presbyterian College at Winnipeg, positively identified him as Rev. George Bryce, D.D., LL. D.

Note how adroitly Dr. Hillis conveys the impression without making the positive assertion, that this historian had obtained from his examination of the Hudson's Bay Company's archives certain proof that Whitman saved Oregon, though when he comes to state what that historian actually said to him, it is nothing from the Hudson's Bay Company's archives, but merely an echo of what that historian - or anybody else - would acquire from reading and believing Spalding's pamphlet, or Barrow's "Oregon," or Nixon's "How Marcus Whitman Saved Oregon," or any one of the many other equally fictitious books, pamphlets, or magazine or newspaper articles advocating the Whitman legend.

Dr. Bryce Admits Knowing Nothing.

I at once wrote to Dr. Bryce, calling his attention to the fact that Dr. Hillis and President Penrose stated that he had discovered in the archives of the Hudson's Bay Company proof that Dr. Marcus Whitman had saved Oregon to the United States, and asking him if he had found any such matter in the archives of the Hudson's Bay Company, and if so, requesting him to send me a transcript of the documents with bill for the same, and I would immediately remit.

Dr. Bryce promptly replied, under date of Winnipeg, January 30, 1905, as follows: "I have received several letters about the 'Whitman Controversy.' I am not sure whether Dr. Hillis refers to me or not. I dined with him at the house of a friend in Winnipeg, but can remember no definite statement made by me in conversation ... However, I know nothing of the Whitman matter."

So instead of "positive proof having been found in the archives of the Hudson's Bay Company that Whitman saved Oregon to the United States," the distinguished Canadian historian who has searched those archives most extensively for the materials of his "The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company," not only did not in that book even mention the name of Marcus Whitman, but, on being questioned directly as to whether or not he had found any evidence in those archives about Whitman having saved Oregon to the United States, declared point blank: "I know nothing of the Whitman matter," and any farther comment on it is certainly unnecessary; while Rev. Dr. Hillis and Rev. S.B.l. Penrose may be left to crawl out of the awkward position in which they have placed themselves as best they can. I am reliably informed that President Penrose has taken great pains to have this purely bogus "evidence" given very wide circulation.

Dr. Hillis' Ignorance.

As showing the amazing density of Dr. Hillis' ignorance on this subject, about which he spoke so glibly, and with such an air of authority, at Des Moines, it is proper to remark:

First - That Longmans and Green have not published any volumes - "splendid" or otherwise - relating to the Hudson's Bay Company, as they informed me by letter dated February 20, 1905.

Two Canadian historians have written histories of the Hudson's Bay Company, namely: Beckles Wilson, "The Great Company," published by the Clark-Copp Company, of Toronto, Canada, 18999, and Rev. George Bryce, "The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company," published by Sampson Low, Marston & Co., London, 1900. Though both are valuable and interesting books, neither one is, in any proper sense of the term, a "splendid volume," and neither one so much as mentions the name of Dr. Whitman.

Second - The Hudson's Bay Company never "ruled Canada," nor any, even the smallest fraction, of Canada.

Third - Canada was never "called Prince Rupert's Land." Where Canada ended Prince Rupert's Land began.

Fourth - The Hudson's Bay Company did not "have power of life and death" even in Prince Rupert's Land, being expressly forbidden by act of Parliament even to try any offender, upon any charge or indictment for any felony to which the penalty of capital punishment was attached, or to try any civil suit or action in which the cause of such suit or action exceeded two hundred pounds in value.

All such offenders and civil suits they were compelled to send to Upper Canada [now the Province of Ontario] for trial; and in any of the cases they were allowed to try, the right of appeal was expressly reserved.

It must also be remembered about this matter, that under the barbarous laws of England at that time no less than 160 offences were felonies to which the penalty of capital punishment was attached, which left the Hudson's Bay Company no authority to try and punish for any offenses graver than what we now should call mere misdemeanors, instead of "having the power of life and death."

This act of Parliament was printed in full by our Government more than once, in connection with Congressional discussions and diplomatic negotiations about the Oregon question, and is also to be found in "Greenhow's Oregon and California," edition of 1845, pages 467-472.

Fifth - They never for one moment "controlled Western Canada," nor Eastern Canada, nor any part of Canada; but they controlled the region west of Canada, which is a very different thing from "Western Canada."

Sixth - Whitman made no "moves" which Dr. McLoughlin "watched", or needed to watch.

Seventh - McLoughlin sent no "Indian runners to Montreal" from Oregon.

Annually in the spring, as soon as navigation was open, the express for Montreal left Fort Vancouver on the Columbia, going by boats and portages as far up the river as possible and then on horseback across the Rockies to the head of boat navigation on the Saskatchewan, and then by boats with many portages by Lake Winnipeg, Rainy Lake, Lake Superior, Georgian Bay, and the Ottawa River, and many smaller lakes and rivers and portages, arriving at its destination generally in October.

Vagaries Only.

All of these things to which Dr. Hillis said Dr. Bryce if "called into the stand" would "testify" are thus proven to be merely the vagaries of the ill-regulated imagination of an emotional rhetorician concerning himself not with advancing the cause of truth, but only with turning fine periods and creating a sensation in a missionary meeting address, and it is absolutely certain that neither "that distinguished Canadian historian," nor any one else even moderately acquainted with the history of the Hudson's Bay Company would "testify" to a single one of them.

In what Dr. Hillis says about Professor Bourne's very scholarly, temperate and just essay on "The Whitman Legend," he is as indifferent to the truth as in his statements about the Hudson's Bay Company and Canada and Prince Rupert's Land, and the only charitable view of the matter is that he has never thought it any more needful to read Professor Bourne's essay carefully before denouncing it than he did to read Dr. Bryce's "History of the Hudson's Bay Company" before substituting for its accurate information his own sensational fancies.

If Dr. Hillis will canvass all the professors of American history in all the universities of our country and in all the colleges [except the distinctively Congregational and Presbyterian colleges], he will find that fully nine-tents of them [and also as large a proportion of the authors of American historical works that have a national or international reputation who are not professors of history in universities and colleges] indorse Professor Bourne's "Legend of Marcus Whitman" as presenting absolutely irresistible evidence in support of every important conclusion it states against the theory that Marcus Whitman saved all, or any, even the smallest part, of the old Oregon Territory to the United States.

"A Place Called Oregon"
R. Gess Smith