On January 4, 1907, Pacific Northwest native, missionary, scholar, and collector Myron Eells (1843-1907) dies. Within a month of his death, his significant collections of books, papers, and artifacts will be donated to Whitman College, where they will became important nuclei of the college’s library, archives, and museum.
Northwest-born and Raised
Myron Eells, the younger son of pioneer missionaries Cushing Eells (1810-1893) and Myra (Fairbanks) Eells (1805-1878), was born at the Tshimakain Mission near present-day Spokane, Washington, in 1843. After missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were killed at the Waiilatpu Mission, near present-day Walla Walla, Washington, the Eellses relocated to the Willamette Valley. In 1859, when the land east of the Cascade Mountains was opened for resettlement, 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, worked on his father’s farm in Walla Walla for two years, and then decided to study for the ministry. He went east, graduated from Hartford Theological Seminary in Connecticut in 1871, and then returned to the Northwest. He led a Congregational Church in Boise, Idaho, then in 1874 moved to the Skokomish Reservation, west of Puget Sound, where his brother, Edwin, was Indian Agent. Eells remained there for the rest of his life, working as a missionary among Native Americans and white settlers.
Missionary, Scholar, Collector
On the Skokomish Reservation, Eells found time and stimuli to conduct research on various religious, historical, and anthropological topics. Beginning with a questionnaire that had been sent to his brother to gather information for the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Eells pursued “painstaking investigations into the written and unwritten records” of the people and history of the Northwest (Eells, Marcus Whitman, 17). His literary output included hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines, some 50 pamphlets, four books, and a number of unpublished manuscripts.
In order to pursue his studies, Eells developed a special collection of books on Northwest history, a historical-manuscripts collection, and a collection of Native American artifacts. He gained a national reputation as both a scholar and a collector. In 1892, he was appointed superintendent of the Department of Ethnology for the Washington State Commission for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. On May 5, 1896, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a feature on his Northwest library.
For Whitman College
Eells was a trustee and avid supporter of his father’s school and after his death in January 1907 his collections were donated to Whitman College. Eells’s collection of more than 1,600 Native American artifacts and his collection of hundreds of historical manuscripts substantially changed the size and nature of the college museum. The college library grew by more than 10 percent with the addition of Eells’s 1,800-volume library; and, with the one-third of these volumes that constituted Eells’s Northwest history library, the college obtained its first significant special collection.
In addition to books for the Whitman College Library and artifacts for the college museum, Eells’s collections supplied material for a regional historical-manuscripts collection, the college archives, and Eells’s own manuscript collection, the Myron Eells Collection. At the 100th anniversary of his bequest, material that he created, collected, and bequeathed to Whitman College was located in the Myron Eells Library of Northwest History, the Whitman College Northwest Manuscripts Collection, the Whitman College Archives, and the Maxey Museum.