Sarah Ruhamah De Bell Frost Beggs, last survivor of the Oregon Mission of 1840

sarah ruhamah de bell frost beggs

Opportunities missed: Curtis didn’t take a picture of her because she wasn’t a disappearing Indian — and Meany didn’t write down her Chinook Jargon! (image credit:

While working with legendary photographer Edward S. Curtis, the important early historian of the Pacific Northwest, Edmond S. Meany, had a chance encounter in South Dakota with a very old woman who spoke fluent Chinuk Wawa…

…and she turned out to be the widow of a very important figure from early pioneering days:

last survivor of the oregon mission of 1840

“Why, then you must have known Rev. J. H. Frost, who established the mission at Clatsop?”

“Glory be to God! He was my husband!”


“Yes. You see, after we returned from Oregon Mr. Frost died, and on January 1st, 1866, I was married to Rev. Stephen R. Beggs. So I am the widow of two Methodist ministers.”

This valuable clue was seized upon, and the interviewer plied ihe questions that brought forth a flood of information and gossip about those historic days of early Oregon. The chance dropping of a word of the Chinook jargon was like an elixir. The old lady’s face brightened and she proceeded with a lengthy discourse in that language, though probably half a century had passed since she had heard it used. In those early days she and her husband had used the Chinook in their home at Clatsop, as well as in religious services among the natives.

Sarah Ruhamah De Bell was born in Colchester, January 1st, 1816, and on the same day in 1834 she was united in marriage to Rev. J. H. Frost, and sailed with him and their little son for mission work in Oregon late in 1839.

She was very emphatic in her praise of the officers of the Hudson Bay Company, especially of Dr. John McLoughlin and Dr. W. Fraser Tolmie. They were always kind and considerate.

— from page 13 of “Last Survivor of the Oregon Mission of 1840” by Edmond S. Meany

What an amazing encounter. Wouldn’t it be great if Curtis and Meany had documented it with photos and more detailed notes on her Jargon?

What do you think?