The Sandwich Islands would later become the Hawaiian Islands, and the Oregon Spalding referred to was then Oregon Territory, where his own Lapwai Mission stood. It would not become Idaho Territory until 1863, long after the Spaldings had fled the territory.
According to the book, The Lapwai Mission Press, by Wilfred P. Schoenberg, S.J., from which the quotes in this post are also taken, no book of Nez Perce was printed in Hawaii, though a proof consisting of a couple of pages of set type for a Nez Perce spelling book created by Spalding and his wife Eliza was printed. Instead, the Sandwich Island Mission prepared to fulfill Spalding’s main request, which was for a printing press to be sent to Lapwai.
The press they would send, was the fifth press in Hawaii. It would be the first in the Pacific Northwest, the eighth in what would become the West of the United States. Importantly, it is the only one of those first eight still in existence.
The Sandwich Island Mission sent not just the press, but the pressman. Edwin Oscar Hall, a lay minister in the congregation, would accompany the press to Lapwai. He agreed to do so partly because his wife’s health would benefit from a cooler climate.
Hall set up the press and began working it on May 16, 1839, three days after they arrived at Lapwai. He set about running proof sheets, and by May 24 he had printed four hundred copies of an 8-page book using an artificial alphabet of the Nez Perce Spalding had devised. This “reader for beginners and children” was the first book printed in Oregon Territory. If you had a copy of that thin tome it would be worth quite a lot today. But you don’t, because shortly after the little books were printed they were destroyed.
In July, 1839, all the missionaries of Oregon Territory got together to discuss the book. They found Spalding’s attempt to create a Nez Perce alphabet and provide a means for translating the language could not “be relied on for books, or as a standard in any sense.”
The Reverend Asa Bowen Smith edited a new version of Spalding’s book, which would be called First Book: Designed For Children And New Beginners.” It was published in August, 1839.
The book the missionaries rejected and ordered destroyed, lived on in a way. In later years it was discovered that some pages of that earliest printing were used in the cover and binding of the new “first book.”
The printer Hall and his wife returned to the Sandwich Islands in May of 1840, leaving the press behind.
In 1842 or 43 the press was used to print a book for young readers in the Spokane language, a book of The Laws and Statures, and a hymn book. Spalding labored for two years on a Nez Perce translation of the gospel of St. Matthew. It was printed in 1845. That year the last of the imprints from the Lapwai press appeared, a “vocabulary” of Nez Perce and English words. In 1846 the press was moved to The Dalles. It had a short history printing The Oregon and American Evangelical Unionist, and, years later, in 1875, was donated to the Oregon State Historical Society in Salem, where it resides today.
The photo below is courtesy of the University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, IND0323.