Explorers like Lewis and Clark were the first documented Europeans in the Northwest, but even they were preceded by unknown mountain-men who simply liked to roam. They were followed by fur trappers and large fur companies like the Hudson Bay Company.
As we went along the roads, however, we saw many historical signs dedicated to missionaries and priests who followed the fur trappers. They went west long before the pioneer emigrants. The federal government has preserved one such site, the Whitman Mission, as a National Historic Monument.
Our honeymoon story once won “first runner-up” in a national contest for the worst honeymoon stories ever. Perhaps on the occasion of an anniversary, I will publish that story. But here we encountered the story of an even more difficult honeymoon trip.
Around 1834, four Indians made the arduous trek east across the continent. They were impressed with European’s technology and attributed it to the book that told about their god. They asked for someone to come out and teach them.
So in 1836, a Boston missionary society sponsored missionaries to the Indians of the Northwest. Medical doctor Marcus Whitman took his new bride, Narcissa, to an area just beyond the Hudson Bay Company fort at Walla Walla. There were no roads, just trails left by Indians and trappers. They arrived on horseback to an unfinished cabin. Even that soon had to be replaced when the nearby river flooded.
Narcissa Whitman and the wife of another missionary, Eliza Spaulding were the first women to cross the continent, the first white women in the Northwest, and the first women to travel what would become the Oregon Trail.
The Whitmans taught the small tribe of Cayuse Indians how to irrigate and plant fields, how to mill flour and about the Bible. Their only child, 27-month old Alice, was loved by the Indians but fell into the river and drowned.
Whitman ran his mission for eleven years. It became a stopping point for emigrants, and by 1847, there were five thousand emigrants. They brought smallpox with them. The Cayuse observed Dr. Whitman had much more success treating the emigrants (who had acquired some immunity) than he did treating Indians. Soon about half of the tribe had died. Some thought he was poisoning them. 45-year old Marcus, 37 year-old Narcissa and eleven others were killed by a revengeful band.
If it can be said this portion of our trip had a destination, it would have been Sandpoint, Idaho. We had heard of this small town on Lake Pend Oreille (pon-da-ray), home of a favorite author, humorist Patrick McManus. And on the way, we wanted to see Lake Coeur D’Alene (Cor-da-lane).
We were quite disappointed. Perhaps we have become jaded by all the spectacular places we have seen. Lake Coeur D’Alene was surrounded by summer homes and cottages; there were few view points and little public access.
Sandpoint does not take very good advantage of its lake, and both towns have little rustic charm. They do have, as one brochure described it, “an array of boutiques, art galleries and restaurants.” As Sandpoint is on a route from nearby Canada, there also was lots of traffic.
Large signs at both ends of Sandpoint proclaim establishments that sell pies. I love pie, but the one sold pies in cardboard crust with gelatinous filling and less fruit than a McDonald’s product. The other was better, but not great.
But before we could feel too sorry for ourselves, we realized we how much better our travels are than Marcus and Narcissa Whitman’s.