Heeding The Call
After the exploration of Lewis and Clark in 1804 there was an infiltration of explorers and trappers into the Pacific Northwest. Their survival in this wild and untamed land was dependent on their ability to live and work with the natives of the area. It was these same individuals who introduced the "white man's great spirit" to the natives. Prominent among the these individuals was Jedediah Smith. A devout Methodist, he carried his bible with him at all times.
In March 1831, four Flathead Indians accompanied some of the white trappers from the buffalo country down to the city of St. Louis. They went there to see General William Clark, Indian Agent and the first great chief of the white men who had visited their nation. They had come to learn of the "white man's Book of Heaven". Although two of the Indians died in St. Louis, a third died on the way home and the surviving Indian was killed shortly after reaching his tribe in a raid by the Blackfeet, their journey had far reaching results.
William Walker, a half-breed Wyandotte, an educated man who had been converted to Christianity, learning of their journey wrote a letter to a New York business man who was interested in establishing Christian missions among the Indians. The letter was published in the Christian Advocate and Journal, New York City in March 1833. Being a widely read newspaper, it generated an almost immediate response.
Wilbur Fisk, D.D., at that time president of Wesleyan University in Conneticut, immediately set to rousing the churches to action. His appeal was heard and the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church determined to attempt the establishment of a mission among the Flat-head Indians of the Oregon country. A call was made for men to engage in the projected mission.
Two men who answered the call were Rev. Jason Lee and later, his nephew, Daniel Lee, both natives of Stanstead, Lower Canada. The former was the youngest of fifteen children born to Daniel and Sarah (Whittaker) Lee. He was born June 28, 1803 and became a member of the M.E. Conference at its session in 1833, and then that of an elder, in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Daniel Lee, who had travelled more than two years in the New Hampshire Conference was ordained a deacon in 1833. October 10th, 1833 the missionaries met at New York to make arrangements for their departure. On the 16th the missionary board held a special meeting to appropriate funds. In addition they (1) directed that two laymen should be secured to add efficiency to the effort (2) that the missionaries should travel and hold meetings to raise funds (3) they should travel south as far as the capital and then west, in the hopes of joining a company of traders and trappers who were going into the mountains in the spring.
While attending a farewell missionary meeting in New York in November 1833 they learned of a gentleman by the name of Captain Nathaniel Wyeth who had arrived in Boston, Mass from beyond the Rocky Mountains. The Board judged that he would be able to provide necessary information regarding the Oregon country. Jason Lee left New York immediately to seek an interview with Captain Wyeth. The result was an offer of assistance which was gratefully accepted. Necessary equipment for the commencement of the mission was to be sent on the brig, the Maydacre, of Boston. Captain Wyeth was to include them in his company of men that were recrossing the Rocky Mountains in the spring.
January 29th, 1834, Jason Lee returned from Boston and headed south, holding meetings for the benefit of the Mission in Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore and several other locations, with very encouraging results. Early in March he left for the west. Daniel Lee, having attended the Baltimore Conference, where he received his elders orders, followed him on the 19th. At Pittsburg Lee was joined by Cyrus Shepard, from Lynn, Mass., one of the laymen engaged in the mission. From there they took passage to St. Louis, Mo. Daniel Lee joined them in the early part of April. By the time he arrived the necessary mountain outfit had been sent up the Missouri in a steamboat, in the charge of Mr. Shepard. Jason and Daniel Lee proceeded to Independence on horseback. Upon arrival, Mr. P.L. Edwards, of nearby Richmond, was added to the mission party. At the same time, Mr. C.M. Walker, also of Independence was hired for a years time to cross the mountains and assist in commencing the mission. By April 27th provisions had been gathered and everything was in readiness for the journey.