Structure Type: built works - public buildings - schools - university buildings

Designers: [unspecified]

Dates: [unspecified]

Walla Walla, WA

OpenStreetMap (new tab)
Google Map (new tab)
click to view google map

Building History

This dormitory was named in honor or the missionary Narcissa Prentiss Whitman (1808-1847), one of the first two Euro-American settlers to cross the Rocky Mountains. She became a teacher of physics and chemistry and travelled to this portion of the Pacific Northwest in 1836 to set up a mission near Walla Walla with her husband, the missionary and physician, Marcus Whitman (1802-1847). This was before the area became the subject of a boundary controversy between the British who administered Canada and the United States during the 1840s and the formation of the Oregon Territory by the US Congress in 1848.

At first, relations between the Whimans and neighboring Indian tribes, the Cayuse and Nez Percé, remained relatively calm. The tribes considered the Walla Walla Valley important and fertile land, but ceded use of it to Whitman and his party. The Whitmans set up a mission at Waiilatpu, "Place of the Rye Grass," about eight miles west of Walla Walla. Earlier relations with Euro-American traders had set up conventions of behavior that the tribes thought would continue with the Whitmans. Trappers and ship captains often gifted items to Northwest Indians that became important to assuage feelings of anxiety and suspicion that they had toward newcomers. The Whitmans broke from this gifting tradition, stoking resentment among tribal members, who believed the whites wanted to displace them. They aimed to change Indian life in a wholesale and abrupt manner, imposing new forms of religion, agriculture, dress and vastly different social relations (particularly with regard to gender roles), which engendered resentment among Indian men.

The Cayuse exerted hegemony over the Walla Walla area, cooperating and intermingling with some neighborhing tribes, including the Nez Percé and Umatilla, while subjegating others. They obtained horses from the Shosone to the south, and this acquisition increased their range and power. It enabled easier mobility in their yearly migrations to harvest seasonally available foods, including salmon and camas root. It also enabled them to conquer some surrounding tribes and to raise themselves above other groups. The Cayuse, like whites, were interested in tools that could enhance their dominance, and their fascination with white material culture, such as diverse metal objects, guns, blankets and other manufactured goods, made interactions with Euro-Americans temporarily tolerable and beneficial.

Tensions between the two main tribes and newcomers developed gradually due to the increasing numbers of Euro-American settlers in the Walla Walla Valley (4,000 settlers came in 1847) and the outbreak of measles among Indians and whites that could not be controlled by Dr. Whitman. Members of the Cayuse Tribe charged the Whitmans with favoring whites over Indians and allowing tribal young to die in inordinate numbers. Unfortunately, the Cayuse population had never been exposed to measles or other relatively commons diseases known to Euro-Americans, for whom the latter had developed some level of immune-system protection. Large numbers of Indians from the Cayuse Tribe, perhaps half the total population, died in the 1847 outbreak, generating grief and anger over the whites who brought the plagues to them.

On 11/29/1847, Cayuse Chief Tiloukaikt (d. 1850) confronted the Whitmans as anger reached a boiling point. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were slain as were eleven other white settlers at their Waiilatpu settlement. Fity-three whites were held hostage, and only released a month later due to negotiations brokered by Peter Skene Ogden (1780-1854), an official of the Hudson Bay Company. Tensions with the local tribes were also stoked by the rivalry that developed between Catholic and Protestant missionaries in the region, as both sides attempted to cultivate good relations with natives, sometimes at the expense of the other religious group.

The murder of the Whitmans and other settlers touched off the Cayuse War in the region and spread hostility all over the Oregon Territory well into the 1850s. The US Congress quickly moved to form the Oregon Territory on 08/14/1848, and to bring the vicinity of the Whitman Massacre under American military control.

Prentiss Hall was a single-sex women's dormitory in 2007.

PCAD id: 7731