Monuments & Mentions

Narcissa Prentiss Birthplace     Prattsburgh, NY

Lace curtains trim the windows and The Oregon Trail is among the books on the shelves in this white clapboard house. Narcissa Prentiss, one of the first two women to cross the Rocky Mountains, was born here in 1808. The Fellowship Hall in the Prattsburgh Presbyterian church (which she joined at age eleven) is named for her; a plaque on a geranium-cradles boulder on the lawn of the Franklin Academy recalls that she was a member of its first class of girls. Although early unable to travel on missionary service like all unmarried females,” Narcissa wed Dr. Marcus Whitman in 1836 and set out for the frontier almost immediately. A century later the highway from Prattsburgh to Naples, New York (Route 53) was renamed the Narcissa Prentiss Highway. The garden to the side of the house is made up of shrubs sent in 1942 by descendants of the Cayuse Indians, who turned out to be the Whitman’s unfriendly neighbors in Walla Walla, Washington.

Narcissa Whitman Monument    Broadwater, Nebraska

Highway 28, north side of Platte River, about 15 miles east of Bridgeport. A state marker here commemorates Narcissa Whitman’s journey to Walla Walla, Washington. She and her husband, along with Elisa Spalding and her husband, passed this point on the Oregon Trail in June 1836.

State Capitol      Salem, Oregon

Inside the rotunda a mural portrays bonneted Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding, the first white women to cross the Rockies.

Monument to Eliza Spalding and Narcissa Whitman    South Pass City, Wyoming

Summit of South Pass. On their way to mission work in Walla Walla, Washington, and Spalding, Idaho, Eliza Spalding and Narcissa Whitman became the “first white women to cross this pass, July 4, 1836,” as noted by this neatly chiseled boulder on the spot where the Oregon Trail crosses the Continental Divide. The curator of this site noted that “the century-old monument reflects ethno-centric attitudes prevalent at the beginning of the 20th century…. Native Americans used the pass for thousands of years before white men or women ever crossed.”

Whitman Mission    Walla Walla, Washington

U.S. Route 12

In 1836, after her historic trip with the Spaldings across the Rockies, Narcissa Prentiss Whitman settled here among the Cayuse Indians with her missionary-husband, Marcus. She supervised the school and taught hymns in her lilting voice. Life at Waiilatpu (“the place of the rye grass”) was a constant struggle, and the accidental drowning of her adored three-year-old daughter, Alice Clarissa, added to Narcissa’s loneliness. The Cayuse whispered among themselves that she was “haughty and very proud,” and that Marcus was an evil sorcerer who was poisoning the tribe to make way for the white emigrants. On November 29, 1845, a small and of warriors took their revenge and killed thirteen whites, including the 2 Whitmans. It was Henry Spalding’s painful duty to write Narcissa’s parents about her death: “Sister Whitman in anguish now bending over her dying husband and now over the sick, now comforting the flying, screaming children, was passing by the window, when she received the first shot in her right breast and fell to the floor. She immediately rose and kneeled by the settee on which lay her bleeding husband, and in humble prayer she commended her soul to God.” Today, at this beautiful historic park, the rye grass still shudders in the wind, but nothing remains of Narcissa’s home. Probable sites of the various houses are marked, and tape recordings tell the story of the mission’s life and destruction. The museum here has a lock of Narcissa’s thick straw-colored hair. Her remains are buried in “The Great Tomb.” Off in the distance a memorial shaft towers on the hill where Narcissa Whitman used to sit in the cool, peaceful afternoons.

Whitman College

Established in 1859 as the Whitman Seminary, a school for pioneer boys and girls, by Cushing Eells to honor his fallen comrades Dr. Marcus and Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, Whitman Seminary became Whitman College in 1882.

The oldest building on campus is the administrative center, Whitman Memorial Building, commonly referred to as “Mem”. The building is the tallest on campus, and was placed on the National Historical Register of Historic Places in 1974.  The oldest residence halls on campus, Lyman House and Prentiss Hall, were built in 1924 and 1926.