Narcissa Prentice Whitman
By Nancy J. Farrier
One of the things I enjoy about researching for historical fiction is the interesting people I read about. Sometimes I can use them in my books; other times I can’t. This year in my blog, I thought I would share some fascinating stories of real people. The first is a woman who has the distinction of being one of the first two women to go west on the Oregon Trail. She is also the first white woman to give birth in Oregon Country.
A few years later, Narcissa wrote to the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM), to inquire about being a missionary with them. With her education, which included “normal” school, or teaching school, Narcissa wanted to teach on the mission field. Narcissa didn’t get accepted at this time, but later, with the help of a Pastor, she reapplied after hearing of the need for missionaries out west.
She wasn’t sure if the ABCFM would accept a single woman as a missionary, but in 1835, Marcus Whitman, a missionary with ABCFM, proposed to her. In February 1836, Marcus and Narcissa were married. They began their journey west the following day. For most of the trip, they traveled with another couple, Henry Harmon Spalding and his wife. (Henry had proposed to Narcissa before she met Marcus, but she turned him down.) The two couples split up once they reached the Northwest. The Spaldings went to Idaho to start a mission and the Whitmans began their mission in Waiilatpu in the Oregon Country.
In March of 1837, Narcissa gave birth to their only natural child, a daughter named, Alica Clarissa. Narcissa loved and doted on her daughter, but Alice died young. At the age of two, she drowned in the Walla Walla River. Narcissa was heartbroken and often became depressed. She would write long letters to her family back home, but didn’t want to interact with anyone.
The next few years were hard for Narcissa. She became discouraged over the lack of response the Cayuse Indians showed for the Gospel. She missed her family and Marcus often traveled, leaving her at home. She had no friends. Then, in 1844, Narcissa and Marcus took in seven children who were orphaned on the Oregon Trail. The Sager children ranged from John, a teenager, to Henrietta, an infant. Narcissa loved children and even adopted some of the native children who were orphaned.
Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest and interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: nancyjfarrier.com.