Morda C. Slauson Collection on William Polk Gray, 1891-1968  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Slauson, Morda C.
Morda C. Slauson Collection on William Polk Gray
1891-1968 (inclusive)
0.2 linear feet, (1 box)
Collection Number
This collection contains correspondence, writings, and photographs of early Washington resident and steamboat Captain William Polk Gray.
Whitman College and Northwest Archives
Whitman College and Northwest Archives
Penrose Library, Room 130
345 Boyer Avenue
Walla Walla, WA
Telephone: 509-527-5922
Fax: 509-526-4785
Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Funding for preparing this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Funding for encoding the finding aid was awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Morda Coleman, later Morda Slauson, was introduced to William Polk Gray in 1923. Slauson was a journalist for the Walla Walla Union Bulletin and collecting pioneer stories for the Walla Walla Pioneer Pageant. Gray and Slauson corresponded regularly. Gray wrote to Slauson, daily sometimes. Slauson later became the publicity agent for the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce, but she continued her friendship with Gray until his death in 1929.

William Polk Gray was born to William Henry and Mary Dix Gray in 1845 at Oregon City. He was the second of six children. Gray was introduced to sailing at an early age; at fifteen, he operated a mail boat out of Astoria, Oregon. At sixteen, he became Captain of a four-man crew primarily composed of Native Americans, which carried freight along the Frasier River. Gray led expeditions to Alaska during the Alaskan Gold rush, ferried supplies and troops during the Indian Wars, carried automobiles up and down the Columbia, and ferried cargo across the Snake River. Gray and his wife claimed land in Pasco, WA, where he became involved in city council and commerce. He founded the first Congregational Church in Pasco in collaboration with Luther and Clara Wilkins.

W. P. Gray and his wife built their home in Pasco, WA, and Gray was employed with the Northern Pacific Railroad as captain of the steamer "Frederick Billings". Three of the Gray daughters died from diphtheria during a two-day period. The Grays survived their other two children, Willeta and Hawthorne. Willeta passed away in 1922, and his last son, Hawthorne, died tragically in a successful attempt to earn the world record for high altitude in a free balloon in 1929. His writings reflect a deep sadness at the loss of his children.

William Polk Gray died on October 26 1929 at his home in Pasco, Washington.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection contains correspondence, writings, poetry and short stories by William Polk Gray and secondary historical accounts and clippings. The majority of the collection consists of autobiographical information by W. P. Gray and contains honest portrayals of life in early territorial Washington. Genealogical information on the Gray family is also included in the collection.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

1:  Correspondence, 1891-1929,   (bulk 1924-1929) Return to Top

This series contains both outgoing and incoming correspondence. Especially salient are the letters between William P. Gray and Morda Coleman, who originally made contact with Gray in 1923 while collecting stories for the Walla Walla Pioneer Pageant. They corresponded for over four years; Gray sometimes wrote Morda daily. Their letters contain Gray's reminisces and contain detailed accounts of his family and experiences.

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
1 1
Correspondence between Frank Gill and W.P. Gray
1 2
Correspondence between Morda Coleman and Frank Gill
1 3
Correspondence between Morda Coleman and W.P. Gray
1 4
Miscellaneous Correspondence

2:  Writings, 1923-1925Return to Top

This series holds the creative and autobiographical writings of W.P. Gray. Gray wrote on a variety of subjects including his experiences in ship navigation, his family, and travels.

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
1 5
"The Eskimo Baby"
1 6
"God Bless Our Home, and Multitude"
1 7
"Harvest Queen"
1 8
"Indian Canoe Idea"
1 9
"Narrative of Marriage"
1 10
"Narrow Escapes"
1 12
1923; undated
1 13
"Rafting Down the Snake River"
1 14
"Steamboat Navigation in Frazer River"
1 15
"Trouble on the Upper Columbia"
1 16
"Waters of the Northwest that I have Navigated"
1 17
"Where is the Mullan Road?"

3:  Miscellaneous, 1900-1968Return to Top

This series contains newspaper clippings and photographs of William Polk Gray. The series also includes two articles containing genealogical information and history. Also included are photographs of the "Sir Robert Kerr" in the ice at Dawson, 1900, Gray and others on the Snake River Bridge at the time of its completion, and a portrait of Gray taken in 1904.

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
1 18
"Four Generations of Grays" by Alice Bird
1 19
Newspaper clippings
1927-1968; undated
1 20
1 21
Talk given by Mrs. George Hartman, at Washington State Federation of Women's Clubs

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Personal Names :
  • Gray, William Polk
  • Corporate Names :
  • Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
  • Family Names :
  • Gray family