Sunday, February 10, 2008

Always Learning

One of the reasons I have a blog is to be able to write down information I have learned so I am able to remember. My mother was visiting last week and my son is home for another couple of weeks. Of course, the reason my Mom came was for her grandaughter's voice recital which she enjoyed with great delight but there were other hours to fill. Lucas has a degree in Anthropology/Linguistics and is fascinated by American Indian culture and language. My Mom is a perpetual student at Carroll College and is interested in most everything. This combination means we visit museums and historic sites in our extra time.

1. Burke Museum. The Burke is part of the UW campus and currently is hosting a special exhibit called the "Peoples of the Plateau." Actual photographs taken by Lee Moorehouse of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes from 1898 to 1915 were on display along with their bead and artwork. The plateau Indians of Eastern Washington and Oregon are completely different culturally from the coastal peoples. My observation is that they are similar to the plains Indians of Montana. However, my Mom and I agreed that their clothing and crafts seem more ornate than indiginous people further east. As we were looking at the photographs and noticing mission pictures, my Mom explained that Christian denominations divided up the West in order to bring (or force) Christianity to the "heathen" Indians. Evidently, the Episcopalians took on the Dakotas, the Roman Catholics claimed Montana, and the Presbyterians and Methodists planned to convert Washington/Oregon area. The hearty Presbyterians traveled the longest distances by covered wagon. The stoic Roman Catholics endured the unbelievable hardships of Montana but the story goes that the refined Episcopalians waited for the existence of trains before doing the work of the Lord. Figures.

2. Whitman Mission. While in Walla Walla, we visited the Whitman Mission museum and historic site. Coincidentally, the experience was like Part 2 of our Seattle Burke Museum. I knew that Whitman College was named after a missionary, Marcus Whitman. The fancy hotel in town is the "Marcus Whitman" and we had a delightful celebratory dinner at its restaurant called "The Marc" while we were there. I have had the impression that students at Whitman do not want to talk about this particular part of Walla Walla's history. What happened to Marcus Whitman? I had heard stories and it is a touchy subject. The Whitman Mission had the story.

Marcus Whitman was actually a physician. Along with a couple of ministers and his wife Narcissa, he traveled by wagon from St. Louis in 1836. Narcissa was the first white woman to cross the continent. The group spread out over a several hundred mile area with the Whitmans opening their mission among the Cayuse near what is now Walla Walla. The idea was to tame the "savages" and introduce them to the wonderful ways of the white man. This was also the beginning of the Oregon trail which still has ruts by the remnants of the mission to this day. Let's just say the plan to convert the Cayuse didn't go so well. A significant culture clash occurred. The Cayuse were nomadic people, terrific horsemen and not amenable to farming nor the least bit interested in classroom or Bible learning. As more white people followed the Whitmans out west, the Cayuse became concerned their plentiful land and way of life were threatened. Furthermore, the settlers brought disease and in 1847, half of the Cayuse who lived in the Walla Walla area died of measles. In the Cayuse culture, if a medicine man's patient dies, the medicine man must also sacrifice his life. Needless to say, things did not look so good for Dr. Whitman and his wife. They were blamed for both causing the fatal illnesses and for failing to cure the sick.

In November of 1847, the Cayuse attacked the mission and used a tomahawk to murder Dr. Whitman, Narcissa and nine others. Protestant missions were then suspended and relations between the native peoples and the settlers deteriorated into hatred and war. To this day, the history of the native people of our nation is not a success story. None of the strife stopped the westward insurgency of white people. As a matter of fact, thirty years later in the 1870's my own great great grandparents, Susan and Caleb Thompson, followed this route and traveled by covered wagon along the Oregon trail. My great grandmother, Leona Thompson was born in Oregon in 1877. She is the family member responsible for the antique upright cherry wood piano that sits in my bonus room at this moment and opened the world of music to my little girl. It's cool to think that Kaley's great great great grandparents bumped along the rutted road not far from Whitman College where she now studies music.

3. Chuckanut Drive. After we returned from Walla Walla, we decided to spend a day exploring north of Mukilteo. An article in the paper described how flocks of trumpeter swans are now visiting from Alaska and hanging out in farmer's fields up north. Lucas recommended we drive along Chuckanut Drive and check out Fairhaven about an hour and a half away. In all of the years we have lived here, we had never done this. I do not know why except that we have so many options of things to do around here, we never run out. Chuckanut Drive is an old road along Puget Sound originally built in the 1880's. It is narrow, winding, and lined with old rock walls. I felt like I was in a National Park with the views and the waterfalls. Fairhaven is an historic Victorian town on the edge of Bellingham with great shops and restaurants. Seeing fields full of white trumpeter swans along the drive was icing on the cake, as they say. Even though it was pouring rain, we had a nice time.

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Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

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View from Chuckanut taken by "moi"