Marcus Whitman

Whitman, Marcus, 1802–47, American pioneer and missionary in the Oregon country, b. Federal Hollow (later Rushville), N.Y. In 1836 he left a country medical practice to go West as a missionary for the joint Presbyterian-Congregationalist board. With his wife, Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, and others, he crossed from Missouri to the Columbia River country and founded a mission at Waiilatpu (now in Whitman Mission National Historic Site, near Walla Walla, Wash.). Disagreement among the missionaries and a board order (1842) to curtail their work led Whitman to ride back across the continent on horseback during the winter of 1842–43 to settle the various disputes. He was successful and returned with the "great emigration" of 1843 over the Oregon Trail. The Cayuse around Waiilatpu, never friendly, grew more hostile, and on Nov. 29, 1847, they attacked the mission and killed Whitman, his wife, and others. Later, there was argument as to whether Whitman made his ride of 1842–43 in order to "save" Oregon from the British, the boundary still being in dispute. However, this "Whitman legend" has been discredited.

See biographies by N. Jones (1959, repr. 1968) and C. M. Drury (1937, and 2 vol., 1973).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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