Elkanah (1805-1877) and Mary Richardson (1811-1897) Walker were one of six missionary couples (plus one single man) sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to the Oregon Mission. The Walkers and one other couple, Cushing and Myra Eells, established the mission at Tshimakain, near the present day town of Ford, Washington, to work with the Spokane Indians.

Elkanah Walker

Born at North Yarmouth, Maine, in 1805, Elkanah Walker received formal education at Kimball Union Academy (Meriden, N.H.) and Bangor Theological Seminary. While a student at Bangor Theological Seminary, the American Board accepted him for missionary service. Elkanah met and became engaged to Mary Richardson, a woman who was recently rejected by the American Board for missionary service because she was single. Mary had previously received her education at Maine Wesleyan Seminary in Kent's Hill, Maine. Her education was anything but formal, however; she was permitted to take classes, but did not receive a diploma because she was a woman. Elkanah spent most of their ten-month engagement completing his studies at Bangor Theological Seminary. They were married in March, 1838. Elkanah and Mary, both having dedicated their lives to missionary service, were quickly appointed, not to South Africa, as originally planned, but to the Oregon Mission by the American Board of Commissioners. In less than a month after their wedding, the Walkers were on their way to the Oregon territories

The Walkers were joined on their journey by three other couples-Rev. and Mrs. Cushing Eells; Rev. and Mrs. Asa B. Smith; and Mr. and Mrs. William H. Gray-all appointees of the American Board-to the already established mission at Waiilatpu, near present-day Walla Walla, Washington. Rev. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and Rev. Henry and Eliza Spalding had established the mission there. A single man-Andrew Rodgers-joined the party en route and accompanied them. The Walkers and the Eells established the mission at Tshimakain the following year (1838).

Walker Family Portrait

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. Much about the Walkers and the activities of the Oregon Mission have been researched and reported by Clifford M. Drury, through his books, articles and research papers.

The American Board closed Tshimakain after nine years (1838-1848), along with the entire Oregon Mission, as a result of the Whitman Massacre.

The Walkers eventually settled near Forest Grove, Oregon. Elkanah pastored a church, did itinerant preaching, and was also instrumental in starting the Tualatin Academy in Forest Grove, which later became Pacific University. The Walkers had seven children, six boys and a daughter. Their first child, Cyrus, was the first surviving white child born west of the Rockies and four other Walker children were born at Tshimakain. Elkanah died in 1877, ending a life that often suffered from a weak disposition. Mary died in 1897 in Forest Grove, having survived her husband by twenty years. She was the last surviving member of the original thirteen members of the Old Oregon Mission.

The impact of the Walkers and the other members of the Oregon Mission was significant, but not immediate. Although they could not count a single convert from the work at Tshimakain, an active congregation was later established among the Spokane Indians. Elkanah wrote a primer in the Spokane Indian language, "Etshiit thlu Sitskai thlu Siais thlu Sitskaisitlinish", which was printed in 1842 on the Lapwai Mission press (Washington State University MASC holds a facsimile copy). In addition, the establishment of the Old Oregon Mission sites provided an example to the nation that settlement of the Oregon Territories was not only possible, but also feasible.

Creating the site

Randy Smith cataloged the Walker Library, scanned images from the books, and wrote the text for the web site. Julie King provided editorial assistance with the books. Mike Walpole, Trevor Bond, and Randy Smith worked on the site's design.

Tshimakain Mission by Charles A.Geyer, (ca. 1843). From the Papers of Elkanah and Mary Richardson Walker, 1821-1938, Cage 57, WSU Libraries.

Description of the Walker Library
Selected images from the Walker Library
Guide to the Walker Papers