It’s a short yet taxing walk up the hill to the Whitman monument.
The view is outstanding.
Even if this winter day the Blue Mountains are wearing a shroud of clouds, it seems I can see forever.
And I don’t feel alone.
I am being followed by the ghosts of history.
The ghosts from the 1840s are lean — there was no fast food in those days — and apparently fast walkers.
I’m visiting the Whitman Mission National Historic Site, about eight miles west of Walla Walla.
The visitor center and museum are closed December and January, but you can still walk the trails for free.
Looking over the countryside, I can imagine settlers flooding in from the east — most after a scary wagon ride down the Blues.
The migration started in 1836, before the famous wagon trains rutted up the Oregon Trail.
That’s when a small group of Presbyterian missionaries traveled west with the annual fur trappers’ caravan. Missionaries Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding were among the party, becoming the first white women to make the daunting trek across the continent.
The Whitman Mission sprouted soon after. It gave white settlers a place to recuperate and repair gear and wagons before continuing on, many to the fertile Willamette Valley of what is now western Oregon.
According to signs at the historic site, the numbers blossomed from a trickle of 25 in 1841 to a flood of 5,000 in 1847.
No wonder the Cayuse Indians, who called the surrounding country home, were alarmed.
More devastating was a measles outbreak in 1847 that killed half the local Cayuse tribe members.
Some of the Cayuse blamed these deaths on Dr. Marcus Whitman.
On the way to the monument, I pass the site at the base of the hill where the Whitmans are buried in a mass grave.
It’s a place for somber reflection.
Across the meadow, on Nov. 29, 1847, Dr. Whitman, his wife Narcissa and 11 others were slain by the Cayuse.
More than 40 other people were taken hostage and held captive for a month.
Several months after the Cayuse released their hostages, they returned and burned down the mission buildings in retaliation for lodges that had been destroyed by the Oregon Volunteers.
Congress, alarmed at the news from Whitman Mission, with due haste made Oregon a U.S. territory.
The territory covered a huge area — current day Oregon, Washington and Idaho as well as parts of Montana and Wyoming.
With these ghosts of history walking with me, I stroll down the hill and follow the trails at the site.
All told, it’s about one mile — mostly all paved.
The modest hike is enough to burn off a few Christmas cookies.
The paved path snakes through the meadows past where numerous mission buildings were situated.
Archeologists have been busy here.
As you walk along, you can see the foundations of mission buildings — each marked with concrete blocks.
Dried grasses rattle in the breeze, the percussive music of winter.
Trees reach their bare arms to the sun.
A pond shivers, wearing a thin coat of ice, with bare-armed trees relected in the waters.
The sun burns its way through the cloud shroud.
Oregon juncos play hide and seek in the sycamore trees.
Leaves the size of salad plates litter the ground.
A Canada geese squadron does a flyover from its base on the nearby Walla Walla River.
I can imagine, before the bitter end, between teaching the Cayuse fence building and ministering to the sick, Dr. Whitman seeing similar sights and being equally entranced.