Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, part 7


What does a party of missionaries, three Nez Perce, an English nobleman, a scraggly bunch of mountain men, and 5,000 buffalo have in common?

The above question has several answers, however the first that comes to mind is that they all had dinner together somewhere out on the Great Plains, minus about 4,995 buffalo give or take a haunch or two.

By now Spaldings battered and bruised body is surely on the mend and he, as well as the entire company of missionaries, is dried out. So it is forward Ho to catch up with Tom Fitzpatrick and his band of merry mountain men. Just a quick summary here should get the idea across of how this portion of the their progress went. Narcissa Whitman After an extended time of travel one portion of the missionary party hurried on ahead, leaving the others to catch up. Of course a previously agreed upon spot of rendezvous had been designated. And, naturally, the first party does not stop there to wait on the second party. But this is not entirely their fault as they were misled by their guide.

This first portion of the split party also had considerable trouble crossing the river. And this, again, was not exactly their fault. Though they had evidently been provided with several crafts in which to transport themselves across the waters, when the time of the crossing came they were down to one canoe. And here it is hard to place the blame considering that the dogs that were with them had eaten the other canoes. Which may have brought the entire situation down to the age-old excuse of I thought it was your turn to feed the dogs. And we dont even want to go into the missionary rebuttal that may have occurred.

There may not have been time, however, to argue the point since by now one of the wagons needed repairs. It had also become obvious that the wagons were overloaded and items had to be selected, their value considered, then jettisoned to spend the remainder of their days littering the prairie along the trail. But they would not be alone for long. In time, pioneering settlers and gold-seekers would follow in the missionaries westward wake. They, too, would come with wagons overloaded and be forced to leave behind on the lone prairies their precious possessions. Marcus Whitman Through all of this stress the missionaries were surely sending prayers heavenward as they cautiously glanced over their shoulders at every moving shadow. They were on the fringe of the homeland of the fierce and bloody Pawnee. They must hurry and catch up to the safety of Fitzpatricks fur party.

But at last the two parties of missionaries came together again and on May 25 they caught up with the mountain men. And what a sight that was. The fur caravan contained about 70 men, 400 animals, 70 heavily loaded wagons, and one English nobleman by the name of Sir William Drummond who was traveling under the name of Captain Stewart.

This semblance of a moving village on wheel and hoof reached the buffalo range the first of June. This range began about three hundred miles west of the mouth of the Platte River. And it was fortunate that they reached the area when they did. Although Mrs. Whitman and Mrs. Spalding still had plenty of flour for baking other provisions were running considerably low.

Provisions for the fur company were also low at this time but it was planned that way. It was the custom of the fur caravan to only carry enough provisions to last them until they reached buffalo country. From hereon they would subsist mainly on that moving meat market of the plains for groceries.

In one of Narcissas letters home, dated June 3, 1836, she tells of the wonderful herds of buffalo they had seen and that several of them had been killed that forenoon. Previously, in the same letter, she gives her mother a vivid picture of their dining arrangements.

Their table is the ground and the tablecloth is an India rubber cloth that is also used as a cloak when it rains. Their dishes are made of tin including the basins they use for teacups. Their spoons and plates are forged from iron. They have several pans for milk and to put their meat in when they wish to set in on the table. Each person carries their own knife in its scabbard, making them handy for use along with forks made from sticks.

Hopefully Narcissas mother is not in a fit of shudders by now for her daughter who goes on to explain that for chairs around their table they spread blankets on the ground and lay down at the table to eat. Narcissa continues with praise of the buffalo meat for satisfying hunger, saying they do not want anything else with it, the entire company of mountain men and missionaries eating it for three meals a day.