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Oregon missionaries: Wikis


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The Oregon missionaries were collectively the religious-minded pioneers who settled in the Oregon Country of North America starting in the 1830s with the intent of converting local Native Americans to Christianity. Such missionaries had an enormous influence on the early settlement of the region, establishing institutions that became the foundation of United States settlement of the Pacific Northwest.

In 1834, New York Methodist minister Jason Lee came to the Oregon Country as the first of these missionaries. The party was called the Wyeth-Lee Party as Lee had contracted with Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth, who was going on his second trading expedition, to accompany him. The party set out on April 28, 1834 with the fur caravan of Captain William Sublette, which included naturalists John Kirk Townsend and Thomas Nuttall. Lee built a mission school for Indians in the Willamette Valley at the site present-day Salem, Oregon. The school later became Willamette University, the oldest university on the West Coast.

In 1836, four Presbyterian ministers missionaries came to the Oregon Country to start another mission. This group was made up of Narcissa Whitman and her husband Marcus Whitman, a doctor, who were both from New York. Another couple, Henry Harmon Spalding (who had been jilted by Narcissa) and his wife Eliza were also part of the group. Narcissa and Eliza were the first white women to cross the Rocky Mountains.

The Whitmans reached the Walla Walla River on September 1, 1836 and founded a mission to the Cayuse Indians at Waiilatpu in the Walla Walla Valley, in present-day state of Washington. The Spaldings found a mission to the Nez Perce Indians at Lapwai in present-day Idaho.

The success in converting Native Americans to Christianity was varied. In some cases, the Indians were very suspicious of the missionaries, and this suspicion only increased when many of the Indians contracted disease, which they blamed on the presence of the missionaries.



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