1847 - Whitmans killed at mission in Walla Walla

Portraits of two of the Cayuse Indians who confessed to murdering Marcus and Narcissa Whitman after their own children died of viruses brought to their people by settlers on the Oregon Trail.

         Although they had been neighbors of the Cayuse tribe for the ten years since they opened their mission in Walla Walla, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were not in good standing with the tribe.  An emigrant train on the Oregon Trail brought measles to the mission that year, and it soon spread to the Indians' encampment.   Many Indian children living at the mission perished, but the white children survived.  Marcus Whitman did his tireless best to attend the sick, but his efforts were unheeded by a virus that soon killed half of the tribe.  A rumor spread among surviving Indians that Whitman himself had spread the disease.    

          On the afternoon of November 29, 1847, three Cayuse Indians came to the mission asking to meet with the doctor.  One of them had lost three children to the scourge, and when he and his companions were shown inside the mission they shot Whitman and hacked him to death.

         Narcissa, standing in a window in a nearby building, was killed by a musket ball.  The shot knocked her over backwards and she landed on the ground amidst the eleven orphan children she and Marcus had taken in from emigrants on the Oregon Trail.   "Lord, save these little ones!" she cried, as warriors broke into the house and carried her outside on a settee, where they killed her after lashing her face with a whip. 

        By the time the Indians had finished taking their revenge, eleven other whites lay dead, including the daughter of mountain man, Jim Bridger, whom the Whitman's had agreed to raise as their own.  Four surviving children were carried off as captives of the tribe. 

        The Cayuse fled to the mountains and were pursued by militia.  Two of the three men who killed the Whitmans surrendered in order to spare innocents members of the tribe.   When asked why he had surrendered, one said: "Did not your missionaries teach us that Christ died to save his people?  So, we die to save ours."