- Cultural Record KeepersThe Myron Eells Northwest History Collection, Whitman College
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Myron Eells (1843–1907) was a Pacific Northwest native, missionary, scholar, and collector. His books, papers, and artifacts, which were donated to Whitman College after his death, became important nuclei of the college’s library, archives, and museum. Today these collections are curated by the Whitman College and Northwest Archives and the Maxey Museum at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. [End Page 214]
The younger son of pioneer missionaries Cushing and Myra Eells, Myron Eells was born near what is today Spokane, Washington, three years before Great Britain and the United States divided up the old Oregon country along the present international boundary. In 1848, months after a group of Cayuse Indians killed missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman near present-day Walla Walla, the Eellses relocated to the Willamette Valley. When the U.S. military declared in 1859 that the land east of the Cascade Mountains could be resettled, Cushing Eells obtained a charter for and began working to establish a school to memorialize the Whitmans.
Myron Eells graduated from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, in 1866 and worked on the family farm in Walla Walla for two years before deciding to study for the ministry. The president of Pacific had told Eells that he was “a pretty good specimen of an Oregonian” but that he needed “to go east and become an American.”1 Eells did go east, graduated from Hartford Theological Seminary in Connecticut in 1871, and then returned to the Northwest. After a few years in Boise, Idaho, in 1874 he moved to the Skokomish Reservation, west of Puget Sound, where his brother was the Indian agent. There Eells spent the remainder of his life as a missionary to the Indian tribes and white settlers.
Beginning with articles he wrote for the newspaper in Walla Walla, Eells began to realize “a literary turn.” The nature of his work on the reservation shaped Eells’s religious, historical, and anthropological research interests and provided him with time to read and write. His first stimulus to produce a carefully researched work came in the form of a questionnaire, which the Smithsonian Institution and Department of Interior had sent to his brother to gather information for the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Eells responded with a 165-page letter, which was later published as a 56-page pamphlet. This work was followed by presentations, more pamphlets, and books as Eells was “led from one subject to another.”2 Eells pursued “painstaking investigations into the written and unwritten records” of the people and history of the Northwest and wrote hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines, some fifty pamphlets, four books, and a number of unpublished manuscripts.3 But to study and write about these records Eells had to seek out and, in many cases, collect them and books related to them.
Although books were among the basic supplies that early Northwest missionaries carried overland and received in shipments that came around Cape Horn, libraries in the Northwest were few and modest. Eells started building his personal library in 1868, before he traveled east. In his library catalog, with entries numbered in order of accession, Eells recorded the title and amount (or, if donated, source) of each book he [End Page 215] acquired.4 In each book, usually on simple nameplates or calling cards, he recorded its accession number, year of acquisition, and cost.5
Before 1877 most of the books Eells had acquired formed a fairly typical minister’s library. But as his research and writing intensified, Eells’s library began to change. Around 1875 Eells began adding entries in his library catalog for scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, pamphlet collections, manuscripts, and other personal papers. Beginning in 1881, Eells began regularly purchasing titles related to Northwest history: “Situated far from the advantages of good libraries. . . he started collecting the books which he needed for reference and reading.”6 Pasted in the back of his library catalog is an article, “Special Collections of Books,” in which the biblical archaeologist Selah Merrill...