MARY RICHARDSON WALKER
Our chapter was named after Mary Richardson Walker, an early Washington Territory missionary.
When Elkanah Walker (1805-1877) was a senior at the Bangor (Maine) Theological Seminary in 1836 he was planning a mission career among the Maritime Zoolaks of South Africa. He was told that it would perhaps be better for him to be married before undertaking such a mission. At the same time Mary Richardson (1811-1897) of Baldwin, Maine, was told that she too must be married to become a missionary. The wives were expected to be able to assist their husbands. Mary Richardson was an educated woman with a doctor's knowledge of medicine and experience as a teacher, making her well qualified for missionary work in foreign lands. Mary had previously received her education at Maine Wesleyan Seminary in Kent's Hill, Maine. Her education was anything but formal. She was permitted to take classes, but did not receive a diploma because she was a woman. The result was a whirlwind courtship and marriage. But a fierce war between two native chiefs in South Africa detained them; and in the meantime the call from Oregon became so urgent that, with their consent, their destination was changed to this coast.
On February 14, 1838, Elkanah Walker was ordained to the gospel ministry of the First Congregational Church of Brewer, Maine. On March 5, 1838, Elkanah Walker and Mary Richardson Walker were married and immediately set out for Oregon on horseback. Accompanying them were the Rev. Cushing Eells and his wife Myra, Rev. and Mrs. Asa B. Smith, and Mr. and Mrs. William H. Gray, all appointed to the already established mission at Waiilatpu. Rev. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and Rev. Henry and Eliza Spalding had established the mission there. The Walkers and Eells would be constant companions for the next ten years and friends for the rest of their lives.
There were three principal missionary outposts in the Oregon Country. In 1836-37 the missions at Waiilatpu and Lapwai (near the modern cities of Walla Walla, Washington, and Lewiston, Idaho, respectively) were built, and in 1839 the missionary presence was reinforced by sending the Rev. Elkanah Walker and his wife to establish the third mission at Tshimakain (about 25 miles northwest of Spokane, near the present day town of Ford, Washington.)
They arrived safely at the Whitman Mission at Waiilatpu on August 29, not quite crossing the entire North American continent in a six-month journey from Maine to what is now southeastern Washington. On December 7, 1838, Cyrus Hamlin Walker was born to the couple, the first white child born in Oregon to live to maturity. Five more children would be born to the couple in their years at Tshimakain. The Walkers and Eells kept the Tshimakain station open for nine years.
Elkanah spent much of his time trying to bridge the language barrier by making a detailed study of Flathead, the language spoken by the Spokanes. He collected his work in a small primer on the language, which was printed on the press at the Lapwai mission. This is believed to be the only book ever published in the Flathead tongue. Meanwhile, Mary Walker found time to indulge her natural curiosity and scientific training by, among other things, teaching herself taxidermy. Though her husband was not fond of her new skill, she delighted in preserving specimens of fish, birds, and other animals by stuffing and mounting them. The few travelers to stop at the Tshimakain mission over the years found Mrs. Walker to be a font of knowledge about the geology, natural history, and natives of the area.
Both of the Walkers, but particularly Mary Richardson Walker, wrote extensively in their diaries. These diaries provide great detail into the physical, psychological and spiritual endeavors of missionary service in the primitive days of the Pacific Northwest.
Following the killings at the Whitman Mission on November 27, 1847, the Walkers and Eells stayed on at Tshimakain until the following March, when they traveled to Fort Colville. There, they enjoyed the protection of the Hudson's Bay Company until June, when the Oregon Infantry escorted them to Oregon City, in the Willamette Valley. Here they helped establish the Congregational Association of Oregon City. The Walkers remained in Oregon City for over a year before moving to Forest Grove in October, 1849. Under the Donation Land Act of 1850, they filed a claim on 640 acres in the Forest Grove area.
Elkanah and Mary Walker had two more children in Forest Grove. Their eight children were: Cyrus H., Abigail B. (Mrs. J.A. Karr), Marcus W., Joseph Elkanah, Jeremiah, John R., Levi C. and Samuel T. They lived long enough to see four of their eight children engaged in missionary work at different times among the Indians of Oregon and Washington, and Joseph Elkanah accepted a missionary post in China in 1872. Elkanah and Mary Walker lived at Forest Grove for the rest of their lives.
While living at Forest Grove, the Walkers helped establish Tualatin Academy (now Pacific University.) When the Tualatin Academy became Pacific University in 1866, Walker donated land for the new campus and served as a university trustee until his death. Cushing Eells became the first principal of Tualatin Academy. He later returned to Eastern Washington to found Whitman College as a memorial to the martyred Whitmans. Walker's name is on the charter of both Whitman Seminary and Whitman College.
Elkanah Walker died at the Forest Grove homestead on November 21, 1877, at the age of 72. Mary Richardson Walker died on December 5, 1897, at the age of 86, having survived her husband by twenty years. She was the last surviving member of the original thirteen members of the Old Oregon Mission. They are both buried in the Mountain Grove Memorial Gardens in Forest Grove.
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Mary Richardson Walker Chapter, NSDAR
Children of the American Revolution
Last updated on July 11, 2016
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