Whitman Mission


The Columbia River Studies class visited the Whitman Mission on a windy, rainy Saturday morning. G. Thomas Edwards, professor of history at Whitman College, met us at the Park Service site and gave students a tour of the mission grounds. We were grateful for Professor Edward's expertise, his enthusiasm and passion for history, and his willingness to entertain questions and observations from the students.



Here is a report of the tour from an CRS student:

"We visited the Whitman Mission site on the second day of our trip. The Whitman Mission was one of the first settlements in Washington state. It was first established near the present-day town of Walla Walla, Washington, as a Hudson's Bay Company site. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman arrived in 1836 to convert the Indians to Christianity and to teach them to read and write. Marcus Whitman was a trained doctor, and the Whitmans worked hard to clear land, grow food, and teach the Indians the white culture. They built a grist mill and several houses on the site. They had a daughter, Alice, who drowned in the Columbia River at the age of two.

In the 1840s, the mission became a stopover for travelers along the Oregon Trail. Travelers could recieve medical attention and buy supplies, some staying for the winter. With the whites came disease. Measles wiped out half of the Cayuse Indians, who believed that the Whitmans had poisoned them because white medicines did not work as well with the Indians as they did for whites. Frustrated with white diseases and the passing flood of travelers, the Cayuse Indians attacked the Whitman Mission in November 1847. Of the 75 residents at the mission at the time, thirteen were killed, including Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. Another 50 were held captive, and the surviving women were raped. There was no resistance, and no Indians died.

The Cayuse Indians fled into the mountains where the U.S. military sought after them for the next two years. Eventually, five Indians were caught and tried in Oregon City. All were found guilty and hanged after a five-day trial. This brought an end to the so-called Cayuse Indian Wars."

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