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.
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
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
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."