National Park Service Curator Bob Chenoweth on Spalding’s collecting:
"Well, the conventional wisdom is that he collected things and sent them back in order to get money to run the mission. But the currency that he got was not money, because it had no, you had to go down to Fort Vancouver to use money in those days. What Spalding needed was, he needed material. He needed fabric for making shirts. He needed axe blades. All these kind of things that traditionally the ABCFM ran a mission operation where every year they would charter a ship. They would load it with these so-called “mission barrels” full of trade items and stuff that the missionaries needed. But you couldn’t purchase them out west. You had to, this was another country at the time. So anything west of the Mississippi was not the United States at that time.
But what had been going on for quite some time in the eastern part of the United States was this interest. I mean, it was part of the Victorian movement that resulted in museums and museum collections in Europe. And also, you know, in the U.S. At the Peabody and Smithsonian and all over the place. But the items that people needed since they couldn’t be purchased getting the mission barrels was the way to do that.
And Allen, on the other hand, was part of that movement. Or lived in that world where the so-called “Indian curiosities” were becoming important. They mattered to some people.
So I think what probably happened was that Spalding had to give something back to Dudley Allen and to the other people who were supporting the ABCFM’s operations. And you know, they were recruiting, they were asking people to donate things, or donate money, so that they could purchase things to send out to the missionaries. So then they went from Boston to around the horn. They went to Hawaii first, and then they could come. Because the ABCFM had those missions in Hawaii. On the Big Island and on Oahu.
That’s eventually how that printing press, that famous Spalding printing press that Oregon Historical Society has, that’s how that came. Because the guy and the press went first to Hawaii. And something happened, I don't know. And then the press was brought here. And Spalding used it for a while. But this guy ran it.
So I think that the exchange was not currency, per se. It was these goods. And I don't think anybody realistically saw it as a, an equal thing. Spalding was doing what he could.
The stories here are that you know, the people that wanted to be baptized, that wanted to convert to Christianity, Spalding had to see a physical manifestation of that. So you couldn't keep wearing Indian clothes. You couldn’t keep wearing buckskins and feathers. You had to change over. So what people say is that Spalding told people, “You have to give these things up. And I’ll take care of them. I’ll dispose of them.”
Nez Perce that were interested in conversion. I mean, I don't think there’s any way to know the details. The thing, the frustrating thing is that given all that Spalding wrote, he didn’t write down where any of this stuff came from. Who gave it to him. And I don’t believe that the Indian people themselves that gave up their things understood that they were going to be preserved."
"And for a lot of tribal people, the knowledge about Spalding where people, just historically where the Nez Perce people initially were fairly responsive to his coming to this area. Not necessarily just for the fact that we were somehow we didn’t know who God was or didn’t know, didn’t have any religion and we were waiting for religion. That’s how sometimes the history books sort of characterize it. But the fact that it was providing us, because if you think back a long time ago, our people were always people that sought knowledge. Nez Perce people always sought knowledge wherever it came. So when you had different items that begin to affect our lives, you know, it was important to the Nez Perce to try to find the source of that knowledge, and a way to access that knowledge. And what that really was was technology, such as firearms and other things that had a tremendous impact on our lives at that time. And so. And also if you remember at that time, the academics and those people that taught were, and missionaries were one and the same, basically. Especially out in the west. And so I think a lot of that was not so much that we were looking for religion or spirituality, because we already had that. But that we were looking for that type of knowledge and ways to access that.
So when Spalding came, I think many of our people were receptive. And to compare it to what we already knew about our creator, it seemed like it was consistent with what they were saying. But over time, I think, there was some, the people became dissatisfied with Spalding because they seen him, for us, somebody who takes upon the role of being a spiritual type leader, you know, they’re held to a certain standard. And they kind of felt like after a while that well Spalding’s just here, he’s just a trader.
You know, not a traitor in terms of, a trader in terms of somebody who was like operating a trading post. He’s no spiritual man. He’s just here, you know, buying and selling things, you know. Which was probably part of what he had to do to survive. But I think a lot of our people kind of did not take to that very well. And become somewhat disillusioned in his teachings and what he was espousing as a Presbyterian minister.
And of course there’s all the stories and knowledge about, he did some probably what would be considered very underhanded things to fool Nez Perce people. And I think, so part of the collection, I think, was part of that effort for him, you see reference in various manuscripts, reference these as curiosities. So there was somewhat of a monetary value attached to them. And I think he realized that and tried to capitalize on that.
You know, I think there’s a lot of suspicion amongst people now, knowing some of that history from what we know from the written history, but also from our elders, that find it hard to believe that he was actually purchasing those items from Nez Perce people. Because we know the stories of how he would try to shame our people into thinking that those ways were backward, and those ways were somehow associated with the devil and things like that. And so he encouraged them to basically rid themselves of a lot of these type of items that came from our way of life. And so, you know, a lot of us kind of, a lot of Nez Perce people kind of feel that, you know, that’s probably how he got them. Rather than actually paying hard dollars for them."