Who was Marcus
Marcus Whitman was born September 4, 1802. He was the seventh generation descended
from John Whitman who arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony prior to December, 1638.
Raised in Western New York state and Massachusetts he acquired practical knowledge and
skills as well as a formal education and a strong moral upbringing. Still while a
teenager he had thoughts of becoming a minister, but at age 21 he began studying medicine
instead. Still a religious man, he left his practice to be a scout for mission stations
in the new Oregon Territory. On this trek he traveled with a caravan headed to the annual
Rendezvous of mountain men and trappers where he tended to their bodies and souls.
Upon his return back East, he married Narcissa Prentiss and in 1836 they crossed the
continental divide accompanied by other missionaries, and settled at Waiilatpu near
present Walla Walla, Washington State.
Marcus Whitman was well accepted as a medicine man even before he established the mission
station among the Cayuse in 1836. However, between 1836 and 1847 life changed greatly
for both the Whitman’s and the Cayuse. By the 1840’s the mission had become a way stop
on the Oregon Trail for weary immigrants traveling West. As a result, there was growing
tension between the Cayuse and the missionaries. Even with heroic efforts by Doctor
Whitman, a measles epidemic killed half the Cayuse tribe in 1847. This personal tragedy
was too much for some Cayuse. On November 29, 1847, Dr. and Mrs. Whitman and eleven
others were killed and their mission destroyed by a small party of Cayuse.
The legacy of Dr. Marcus Whitman lives on. Some years later, an associate of Dr.
Whitman’s established Whitman Seminary on the site of the old Whitman mission. The
seminary was later moved to Walla Walla and was to become the well known Whitman College.
The memories of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, the Cayuse indians and the Oregon Trail
immigrants live on today as lessons in compassion, cultural understanding and tolerance.
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Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.