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Marcus Whitman
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Dr. Marcus Whitman was an important figure in the history of the Pacific Northwest region of North America, as much for his alleged deeds as for anything he actually did.

Dr. Whitman and his wife, Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, traveled to the Oregon Country in the 1830s and, under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), established a Presbyterian mission called Waiilatpu at the site of present-day Walla Walla, Washington.

By 1842, the ABCFM was increasingly questioning the mission's success, and Catholic missionaries were gaining traction where Protestants had fallen short. When the ABCFM ordered the closure of Waiilatpu, Dr. Whitman undertook a daring winter ride to the east coast, to appeal the decision. Having persuaded the ABCFM to permit the mission to continue, he returned with the migration of 1843, which brought an unprecedented 1,000 settlers to the region.

For many years, Whitman's colleagues and hagiographers claimed that he had "saved" Oregon to the United States, by persuading President Tyler and Secretary of State Webster to negotiate harder with the British for control of the region; in addition, he was credited with having rallied and lead the 1,000 settlers back to Oregon. Both claims were revealed to be false, initially by the research of Oregon historian Frances Fuller Victor, with other historians validating her efforts in later years. In the meantime, the controversy was explored in multiple west coast periodicals over a span of more than two decades. It is widely considered to have been decisively settled by Yale historian Edward Gaylord Bourne in 1901, along with the more detailed efforts of William Isaac Marshall.

In 1847 Dr. Whitman, his wife, and about 12 others were savagely assassinated by the Indians their mission had aimed to convert, sparking the Cayuse War that would nearly eradicate the tribe from the region.


41st U.S. Congress: Senate Executive Document No. 37:

In The Californian (1880s magazine):

  • Oregonian (unsigned editorial on 50th anniversary of assassination) (external scan) (1897)
  • "Whitman Day" feature piece, Oregonian (1897) (external scan)