Wascopam Mission

Compiled by Stephenie Flora

    The members of the Oregon Mission, directed by Jason Lee, determined to begin a new station for missionary effort at the Dalles, about eighty miles above Fort Vancouver. Daniel Lee and Rev. Henry Kirk White Perkins, who had arrived in the reinforcements, were chose to participate in this adventure and better choices could not have been made. They were instrumental in establishing one of the more successful missionary efforts in the Northwest and it was not only due to their dedication to their mission, but also to their admiration and respect for each other.
    Accordingly, on the 14th of March, 1838, Mr. Perkins and Daniel Lee left the Willamette Station by canoe with a small cargo of supplies to establish the new station. Upon their arrival they selected a site about three miles below the Dalles and a half mile from the shore on the south side. It was here that a house was begun. It was located near a natural spring, with a good supply of timber and an extended view of the Columbia River.
    While the building progressed, Mr. Perkins embarked in a canoe to return to the Willamette Station to bring his wife and family to the new location. Upon their return they occupied the house long before it was even roofed. Fortunately the climate was dry and rain seldom fell in summer.
    Immediately upon their arrival at the station, meetings were held with the Indians on the sabbath. Communication was through an interpreter and was a mixed jargon of English, French, Chinook and Walla Walla with bits and pieces of language borrowed from other tribes in the area. The meetings were held outside beneath the oaks and pines with a few scattered stones for seats. Many simply sat upon the ground, a manner of sitting the natives were not only used to, but preferred.
    In August, Mr. Leslie and Mrs. White came from the Willamette Station for a visit. Mrs. White brought her infant son with her. After a short visit they embarked to return. While passing through the lower rapids the canoe was overturned. Mr. Leslie, though unable to swim, managed to grab Mrs. White and threw his arm over the canoe. An Indian who witnessed the accident immediately came to their rescue. Upon righting the canoe they found the lifeless body of Mrs. White's infant son entangled in the floating baggage. The survivors were quickly paddled to Fort Vancouver where they were taken in until they could recover and continue their journey.
    September found Daniel Lee and a small band of Indians enroute to the Willamette Station to secure cattle. Upon arriving at the Sandy it was determined that the guide hired to conduct the party to the Willamette Station was out on an elk hunt. Growing impatient it was decided that the party would continue on their own. Becoming lost, the provisions ran out and several horses died of starvation. Finally, on the 16th, the party came to the Clackamas River. The next day they reached the mission just in time to stop a search party that was being sent out on their behalf. After a stay of nine days the group returned without mishap to the Dalles.
    Shortly after the return of Daniel Lee in October, Mr. Perkins and his expectant wife left for the Willamette Station. Early in December Mr. Perkins tried to return to the Dalles with his wife and their weeks old baby. They reached Fort Vancouver in safety. But, as they proceed up the Columbia about twenty miles they were met by a strong head wind and obliged to encamp. The cold was so great as to freeze the river and the wind blew a gale for many days. At length, with Mrs. Perkins in delicate health, they returned to Fort Vancouver where they found warmth and comfort. Due to continued inclement weather, it was February before Mr. Perkins could return. In the meantime, at the Dalles, Daniel Lee studied the Indian language and continued the meetings. Due to the fact that the Dalles was a winter retreat for many of the indians, the number attending services were greater than during the summer.
    The nights among the Dalles Indians were spent in singing and dancing, and their chants could be heard a mile away. One, and then another of the medicine men, would open his house for a dance, where it was generally kept up for five nights in succession;

    "men, women, and children engaged in the chant, while a man, or a woman, or both, danced on a large elk-skin spread down on one side of the fire, that blazed in the centre of the group, keeping time to the loud-measured knocking of a long pole suspended horizontally, and struck endwise against a wide cedar board--the dancer jumping, and invoking his `tam-an-a-was' or familiar spirit; until, exhausted, he falls as one dead, by the overpowering influence of his `familiar'.
    To arouse him from this deep slumber requires the skill of a medicine man, or `Mesmeriser', who going around him peeps, and mutters, and hoots, at his toes, fingers, and ears, and wakes his tam-an-a-was; when he shudders, groans, opens his eyes, and lives again!"

    In the spring, farming commenced. Fences were made, and about 20 acres were ploughed, sowed and planted. One field of several acres was held in shares with the Indians, who helped fence and plough it. But, the ground being new, produced a meager harvest and much of that was stolen. (A habit all too common amongst the local natives.) This combined with the abundance of salmon, roots and berries prevented the indians from agreeing to till the soil again.
    Besides attending to the farm, a new house was begun and finished to the point that meetings could be held in it during the winter.
    By the summer of 1839, the local natives had become so lawless and daring that there was concern for the safety of the inhabitants of the Dalles mission. Several muskets were purchased, as well as a supply of powder and balls from Vancouver. Plans were made to garrison the dwelling-house and resist any hostility that might be attempted. But, on Daniel Lee's return he found Mr. Perkins labouring zealously night and day at the lodges and peace had been restored. The ministry to the indians continued with good success. Their visits up and down the river resulted in new converts at each village.
    In 1841 the additional recruits requested by Jason Lee arrived. On June 11, a couple of weeks after her arrival, Daniel Lee was married to Marie T. Ware. After settling in at the Dalles, Daniel Lee and Joseph Frost travled up and down the Columbia, visiting the various villages. They returned to the Dalles at the end of July to find the Messrs. Babcock, Brewer and Perkins and their ladies, and Mrs. Lee, all in good spirits.
    September 1841 brought the "intermittent fever" to the Willamette Station. Dr. Babcock who had taken his wife from the Dalles to Fort Vancouver for her health was ordered to proceed to the Willamette. This left the Dalles without a doctor again.
    In October Jason Lee visited the Dalles. On his return to the Willmette Station he was accompanied by Daniel Lee and wife. Maria Lee was to spend the winter there to await the birth of her first child. Daniel returned to the Dalles to minister to the natives.     In December 1841, the Perkins family retreated to the Willamette Station where a daughter was added to their family on January 18th. A few months later, on March 23, 1842, Wilbur Fisk was added to the Daniel Lee family.
    Within a year a second son was added to the Lee family. The stress of missionary life combined with the births of her sons and the intermittent fever began to take its toll on her health. Finally, it had deteriorated to the point that it became necessary to consider a return to the states. So, it was in August that leave was taken and the voyage home was begun.
    The mission continued on for a couple of years before it was finally discontinued.

My name is Stephenie Flora.
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