Whitman massacre. These words bring up tumultuous feelings. Immediately there is a defense air when this topic is broached. How would you feel if your people were known for a massacre of 14 people? This massacre became known across the United States and the after effects are felt even down to this day. Who were the Whitman’s and what happened to bring about the event on November 29, 1847?
Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were both zealous missionaries. They honestly wanted to bring the knowledge of their beliefs to the Native Americans. They traveled to the vast land that few had dared to venture to. They encountered the local tribes and immediately got to work preaching.
At first the Indians were curious. At the Whitman Mission Visitor Center there is a video called A Prophecy Fulfilled and one scene is a full church with Native Americans dressed in their beautiful regalia. But as time went on, interest waned. Why? One reason was the Whitman’s attitude. While they felt the Native Americans could be taught, they still felt superior to them. This attitude would be off-putting, no matter how beautiful of message was being taught. But the message being taught wasn’t beautiful to the ears of those listening. Told they were sinful and going to hell turned many away. Frustrated by lack of results the Whitman’s attitude changed toward the Native Americans. But there was one bright spot in their lives that united them, Alice Whitman.
Alice Whitman was Narcissa and Marcus’ daughter. She was called “Temi” by the Cayuse Indians which means “Cayuse girl”. She was the first white child born on Cayuse land. She spoke and sang the Nez Perce and English language. She was a delight to everyone. Then she went missing. Everyone, including the Native Americans, searched for her. They found her in the nearby creek, dead. Heartbroken from the loss of her child Narcissa changed. This uniting bond was now lost.
The relationship between the Whitman’s and the Native Americans wasn’t the only thing that changed. The land started to fill with more and more settlers. In 1841 there was 25 settlers in the area. In 1842 100 settlers. One year later a wagon train of 800 settlers came, lead by Marcus Whitman. Every year after that it doubled in numbers. The area was quickly filling up. And one cause was the Whitman’s.
The Whitman’s opened their home to the travel-worn passerby’s. Marcus Whitman also owned one of the few black Smith shops in the state so that attracted more visitors. Then disease struck. In two months the Cayuse Indians lost half their tribe. Marcus Whitman extended himself caring for ones, but the medicine only seemed to work on the white men. The Native Americans feared they were being poisoned. Where did this idea come from?
One reason was because they knew their land was a precious commodity. They had heard and seen of Native Americans being forced from their lands. Then the flame of speculation was fanned by assertions from various sources stating that they were being poisoned for their land. With the body count rising the Cayuse saw it as factual evidence. What would happen next?
Multiple times Marcus was told to leave the land by counselors. Marcus continued to trudge on despite death threats. Then the fateful day on November 29, 1847 came. 14 people were killed, including the Whitman’s.
As I walked the grounds of the Whitman Mission and site of the massacre in Walla Walla Washington I thought of the resurrection hope that is held out in the bible at Acts 24:15. Then all will live in a land where ones won’t have racial prejudice, there will be no fighting over land possession, all will be showing the qualities of the fruitage of the spirit, there will be a reuniting with their dead loved ones and true justice will prevail. That is the hope that calms my heart and bring peace to my mind.