“When the Revolutionary war cloud burst . . .” – circa October 19, 1915

Nothing is certain about this untitled, five-page, edited manuscript in the Abigail Scott Duniway Papers, except that Abigail wrote it. Most probably, she composed it in celebration of the 134th anniversary of Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown. Because she refers to herself in the third person, it seems intended for print, not the podium. And it is unfinished, lacking a conclusion.1 In any event, this may well be the final item Abigail ever prepared for public consumption: She died on October 11, eight days before the anniversary and eleven days shy of her eighty-first  birthday.

Scott Duniway gives a brief history of the Oregon Territory, including the boundary dispute with Great Britain, tells of the territory’s first pioneer women and their trials (including, of course, herself), and closes with an excerpt from her address at the Columbian Exposition, positing that nature itself eulogizes their memory.

Abigail comments that her oratory is “always extemporaneous.” As the materials assembled in this archive reveal, this does not quite tell the full story.

When the Revolutionary war cloud burst over the heads of our fore-fathers and foremothers of Colonial days, the mighty land “where rolls the Oregon”2 was practically, so far as the Colonies were concerned, an undiscovered country. Oregon, therefore, has no history which belongs primarily, to the Revolutionary war. But she has a most important secondary history of which it is proper to make special mention on this historic day. France, in the year 1803, sold to the United States all of her possessions in America, to which England had previously, in the year 1763, transferred to France, including whatever she claimed “West of the Mississippi River.”3 But England, having awakened to the importance of these American purchases, still urged a claim to the country. The treaty of Ghent in 1814 invoked peace4, but did not settle the final boundaries between the two countries until the treaty of 1846, when the lattitude of 54:40′ was made the basis of Territorial divisions5, thus settling a dispute between the United States and the Mother Country that had been threatening the peace and prosperity of the people ever since the Florida treaty of Feb 22, 1819.6

When Oregon became a component part of the Nation’s area she embraced within her boundaries all of Washington and Idaho and part of Montana and Wyoming. It will thus be seen that the Territory of Oregon covered a vast area which up to the time of the Florida treaty was a vast, almost unknown wilderness.

But the spirit of the Mothers of the Revolution had, as early as the year 1835, found lodgment in the wilds of Oregon in the person of Narcissa Prentiss7 of the State of New York, a woman of rare accomplishments, a striking blonde, with form well developed and full, a voice of winning sweetness and an enthusiast in religion. Of the tragic fate of this woman, the heroic wife of Dr. Marcus Whitman8, recent history is so full that particulars need not be related here. But mention must be made of Rev. H. H. Spalding’s9 devoted wife10, who excelled in all the useful branches of domestic life; who was an adept with the needle, could spin, weave and sew; was excessively religious, but was always cheerful with the Indian women and commanded their unbounded confidence and respect. Mrs. W. H. Gray11, the beautiful, womanly and accomplished wife of the historian Gray12 who crossed the almost untrodden Plains on horseback with her husband was the third woman of the advance guard who turned her face to the setting sun when Oregon was young. This missionary party started across the Plains and Mountains with three wagons, eight mules, twelve horses and sixteen cows. In the wagons were farming utensils, tools, seeds, clothing and other etcteras. On arriving at Fort Laramie the wagons were all abandoned except one. The party arrived at Fort Walla Walla on the 2d of September, 1836, after a long siege of such experiences as can hardly be conceived by those who cross the Continent now in a few days, on a Pullman car. Other missionaries and their heroic wives reached the Willamette Valley by sea in 1838, among them being three heroic women, wives of the Reverends E. Walker13, Cushing Eells14 and A. B. Smith15. The wives of Reverends Waller16, Leslie17 and Lee18 should also be mentioned here, but the data is not at hand for further particulars on this occasion.

Thenceforward, for many years the history of the Northwest Territory is silent on the “Woman Question” save when an accident or a massacre reveals a heroic incident in the lives of the constantly increasing numbers of wives and mothers who crossed the continent with husbands and sons, on foot, in ox wagons or on horseback, often holding wild beasts or wilder savages at bay in their lonely cabin homes, or tilling with their own hands the alluvial soil which readily yielded of their hidden substance to supply the homely table of the pioneer. There were no women historians in those days and woman remained for decades the great forgotten equation in the sum of men’s achievements. But, about the year 1870 a woman historian arose upon the scene, and the name of Frances Fuller Victor19 the gifted author of “The River of the West”20 and “All Over Oregon and Washington”21 became a household word. Also in 1871 there came suddenly to the front Mrs. Abigail Scott Duniway, a pioneer of the ox wagon era, who had spent 20 previous years as wife and mother on an Oregon farm, where she had reared a large family of sons and one beloved and beautiful daughter. This untaught woman of the border startled everybody by moving from the country to Portland and launching upon the sea of journalism a weekly newspaper, The New Northwest which at once commanded the attention of the public and finally brought its editor and proprietor national fame, together with a competence upon which she is now living in comparative retirement.

The following specimen of Mrs. Duniway’s oratory, which is always extemporaneous, is found in that unique production of the Columbian Exposition of 1893 The World’s Congress of Women. In a “Tribute to the Pioneers” she said:

The swaying pines of the lands they loved are left to us as a heritage, to chant their eternal requiem. The mighty mountains wear white crowns of everlasting snow in their honor, and the broad prairies adorn their lowly graves with regularly returning flowers as the seasons come and go. The iron horse wakes shrillest echoes where erst the bellowing of the belabored ox was heard. Steam and lightning have out-distanced time and conquered space in the years that have flown since they fell asleep. The mountains and the rocks are answering back to new conditions and the sons and daughters of the pioneers are confronted by new problems of which their parents scarcely dreamed. The air of Oregon is a pure as ether and the scenery as grand [sic] Heaven.22


  1. A parenthetical notation, not in her hand and of unknown origin and reliability, attributes the text to “A.S.D. herself, Oct. 1915.” Accepting this at face value, October 19, the anniversary of the Revolution’s end, is by far the most likely (although examination of the Oregonian confirmed no celebratory event for which a text like this might have been intended.) A second, equally mysterious notation on the back of the final page reads “Oct. 18, 1915.” However, no sufficiently “historic day”–connected to the Revolution or otherwise–appears to correspond to this date. Other candidates for the occasion seem highly unlikely, including: October 12, Columbus Day (the day of her funeral, as things turned out); October 30, Oregon State Day at the Panama-Pacific Exposition (the San Francisco world’s fair), which she already had attended earlier in the year; or October 2, the final day of the Oregon State Fair, on which pioneers were honored. Although ghost-writing would have been exceedingly unusual, it is conceivable that this was intended to be delivered orally but, owing to her incapacitation, by someone other than herself. That she had surgery for an infected toe on October 2, but never recovered, may account for its unfinished condition. []
  2. The title of a poem by Joaquin (Cincinnatus Hiner) Miller (164-65). []
  3. The Louisiana Purchase, concluded on December 20, 1803. []
  4. Signed on December 24, officially concluding the War of 1812 (although, because word traveled slowly, not ending all hostilities). In it, Britain agreed to withdraw all troops from the American Northwest (at the time, the Ohio region). []
  5. Boundaries in Old Oregon were hopelessly tangled. Russia claimed south to the Columbia River; the U.S. and Great Britain both claimed south to the 42nd parallel (California) and north to the 60th. The Russian claim was resolved by treaties in 1824 and 1825, at 54% 40′ N (today’s border between Alaska and British Columbia). However, U.S. and British joint ownership persisted until a succession of provocative bills introduced in Congress by Senator Lewis Fields Linn, of Missouri, provided for the “reoccupation” of the country, establishment of military protection, and liberal land grant policies. The Democrats succeeded in electing James K. Polk to the Presidency in 1844 on a platform demanding exclusive U.S. control of the region, epitomized in the campaign slogan, “Fifty-four-forty or fight.” The Oregon Boundary Treaty of 1846 compromised on the 49th parallel (Corning 33; Scott, History of the Oregon Country 1: 184-93). Scott Duniway’s remembrance of the most aggressive American demand as historical fact could be simple carelessness, or something more. []
  6. The Adams-Onís Treaty between the U.S. and Spain, which renounced any U.S. claim to Texas and fixed the western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. []
  7. Narcissa Prentiss Whitman (1808-1847): born Prattsburg, New York; attended Emma Willard’s Female Seminary, Troy, New York, 1828, and Franklin Institute, 1831; in 1835, applied to American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the missionary arm of several major denominations, for assignment to western native tribes; following marriage to Marcus Whitman, February 18, 1836, came to Oregon, settling at Waiilatpu; engaged in missionary work until massacred, 1847; she and Eliza Hart Spalding were the first white women to cross the Rockies (Wilkins; Drury, First 1: 25-170; Corning 264). []
  8. (1802-1847): gospel missionary and practicing physician, established mission among Cayuse natives at Waiilatpu, along Walla Walla River, 1836; amid increasingly strained relations, smallpox epidemic decimated natives, 1847, and led to massacre, on November 29, of Whitman, wife Narcissa, twelve others; fifty-three others held captive for some weeks; in retaliation, some nine hundred Willamette Valley settlers pursued those responsible across upper Columbia country for more than two years, 1847-50, with discouraging results, in Cayuse Indian War; five natives surrendered, were tried and hanged in Oregon City, spring, 1850 (Drury, Marcus Whitman; Drury, First 3: 279-88). []
  9. Henry Harmon Spalding (1803-1874): born Bath, New York; converted to Christianity, 1822; entered Franklin Academy, 1825; attended and graduated, Western Reserve College, Ohio, 1831-33; married Eliza Hart, 1833; studied at Lane Theological Seminary, Cincinnati, 1833-35; ordained and appointed missionary to Osage, but crossed continent with Whitmans, summer, 1836, establishing mission at Lapwai, where he printed first books in Oregon Country in Nez Perce language; following Whitman massacre, 1847, moved to Brownsville on Calapooya; returned periodically to Lapwai in years that followed, sometimes as Indian agent (Corning 229; Drury, Henry Harmon Spalding). []
  10. Eliza Hart Spalding (1807-1851): born Berlin, Connecticut; married Henry Harmon Spalding at Trenton, New Jersey, Oct. 13, 1833; came to Oregon with Whitman party, 1836, one of first two white women to cross Rockies; taught Nez Perce Indian School at Lapwai, Idaho, 1836-47; following Whitman massacre, 1847, moved to Brownsville on Calapooya (Drury, “Spalding”; Corning 229; Drury, First 1: 173-233; Scott, History of the Oregon Country 1: 318). []
  11. Mary Augusta Dix Gray (1810-1881): born Ballston Spa, New York; married William Henry Gray, 1838; came by horseback to Oregon, arriving at Whitman mission near Walla Walla, August, 1838, to work among Nez Perce at Spalding mission at Lapwai; returned to Whitman mission at Waiilatpu, 1839-42, then moved to Willamette Valley; later moved to Clatsop Plains, where helped form first Presbyterian church in northwest, 1846; finally settled in Astoria (Drury, First 1: 237-69; Oregon Native Son 1 (1899): 110-11; cf. Carey, History 2: 560-62; Gaston, Centennial 3: 579-80; Gaston, Portland 3: 786-88; Scott, History of the Oregon Country 1: 318). Scott Duniway is confusing William Gray’s initial journey in 1836 with the couple’s subsequent trip two years later. []
  12. William Henry Gray (1810-1889): physician and lay missionary; born Farfield, New York; came to Oregon with Marcus Whitman and Henry Spalding, 1836; returned, married, in 1838; secular agent to Methodist Mission near Salem, 1842; helped form Provisional Government, 1843; member, Provisional legislature, 1845; farmed on Clatsop Plains, 1846-55; later entered sawmill business, then mining supplies; wrote A History of Oregon, 1792-1849, which is partisan and even intolerant, but interesting and helpful, 1864-70–blunt descriptions of the other members of the overland party appear esp. on 178-79 (Dobbs 93-97; Drury, First 3: 233-50). []
  13. Mary A. Richardson Walker (1811-1897): born Baldwin, Maine; married Rev. Elkanah Walker (1805-1877), 1838; came to Oregon with the Grays, Eells, and Smiths as missionaries to Whitman’s mission at Waiilaptu, 1838; served at Tshimakain mission at Walker’s Prairie, 1839-48; lived at Fort Colville, 1848, moving to Willamette Valley in company of Oregon Volunteers after Whitman massacre; lived in Oregon City, 1848-49, helping organize Congregational Association there and Tualatin Academy (Pacific University) at Forest Grove; moved to Forest Grove to farm, 1849; seven children (Corning 256; Oregon Native Son 1 (1899): 109; Drury, Elkanah and Mary Walker; Drury, First 2: 21-44, 63-356, 3: 253-65; Scott, History of the Oregon Country 1: 203). []
  14. Myra Fairbanks Eells (1805-1878): born Massachusetts; married Rev. Cushing Eells (1810-1893), 1838; came to Oregon with Grays, Walkers, and Smiths as missionaries to Whitman’s mission at Waiilaptu, 1838; accompanied Walkers to Tshimakain mission until Whitman massacre of 1847, moving then to Willamette Valley; he taught at Oregon Institute, Salem, 1848, Tualatin Academy, Forest Grove, 1849-51, Washington Select School, 1851-57; they returned to Walla Walla area, 1862, promoting Whitman Seminary until 1869, when he resumed missionary work at Spokane; moved to Skokomish reservation on Puget Sound, 1872; two sons (Oregon Native Son 1 (1899): 109-10; Drury, First 2: 47-121, 3: 291-304; Eells). []
  15. Sarah Gilbert White Smith (1813-1855): married Asa Bowen Smith and came to Oregon with Grays, Eells, and Walkers, 1838; established mission at Kamiah, 1839; abandoned, 1841, and went to Sandwich Islands (Hawaii); returned to Massachusetts, 1846; he constructed vocabulary and grammar of Nez Perce language; “a delicate woman, unfitted for the trials of missionary life” (Bancroft, History of Oregon 137-38; Drury, First 1: 273-80, 3: 25-229). []
  16. Elpha White Waller (1811-1881): born Rutledge county, Vermont; married Alvin F. Waller (1808-1872), 1832; started to Oregon from New York, October 1839, arriving via Cape Horn, June, 1840; he was ordained Methodist minister, stationed principally at Oregon City, helped build first Protestant church west of Rockies, c. 1843, then The Dalles, 1844, and Salem, 1847-57; he helped found Willamette University (Waller Hall being named for him) and Pacific Christian Advocate, 1853; three children (Corning 257; Oregon Native Son 2 (1900): 103; Lang 897; History of the Pacific Northwest 2: 620; Pioneer Index, OR Hist. Soc.). []
  17. Mary A. Kinney Leslie (?-1841): of prominent Pierce family of New England; first wife of Methodist missionary David Leslie (1797-1869), one of two magistrates for country south of Columbia River, 1839, chair of committee that drafted code of laws for Oregon Country, 1841, and chaplain of first territorial legislature, 1849; came to Oregon around Cape Horn, 1837; worked missions at Salem and Oregon City; six children (Corning 146; History of the Pacific Northwest 2: 426-27; Oregon Native Son 1 (1899): 452-53; Dobbs 60-63). []
  18. Anna Maria Pittman Lee (1803-1838): Methodist missionary and first wife of Rev. Jason Lee (1803-1845); born New York City, daughter of George Washington and Mary Spies Pittman; left by sailing vessel for Oregon Mission on Willamette, 1837; her boat met by Rev. Lee at Fort Vancouver, May 17; married July 16, became first white bride in Oregon Country; with Lee on fundraising trip east, gave birth to first white child born in Oregon, June 23, 1838; baby lived only two days; she died one day later (Corning 144). []
  19. Frances Auretta Fuller Barritt Victor (1826-1902): born Rome, New York; came to Oregon with husband, H. C. Victor, 1863; author of poems and short stories who became accomplished regional historian; authored The River of the West, 1870, All Over Oregon and Washington, 1872, The New Penelope, 1877, Atlantis Arisen; or, Talks of a Tourist about Oregon and Washington, 1891, Early Indian Wars of Oregon, 1893; at least four volumes of Hubert Howe Bancroft’s History of the Pacific States, including History of Oregon, are largely her work (Walker; Scott, History of the Oregon Country 3: 350-51; Powers 305-16). []
  20. The River of the West. Hartford: Bliss, 1870. This is the story of mountain man Joseph Lafayette Meek, who came west in 1828 as an employee of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, eventually settling in Oregon (seeCorning 164). []
  21. All over Oregon and Washington. Observations on the Country, its Scenery, Soil, Climate, Resources, and Improvements… Hartford: Case, 1872. []
  22. See “The Pacific Northwest” (the final sentence only can be found here). []

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