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5 Massacres Where Almost Nobody Died


5
Whitman Mission Massacre
A covered wagon along a wooden fence at the Whitman Mission National Historical Site in Washington state commemorates Marcus and Narcissa Whitman's role in establishing the Oregon Trail. © Connie Ricca/CORBIS
A covered wagon along a wooden fence at the Whitman Mission National Historical Site in Washington state commemorates Marcus and Narcissa Whitman's role in establishing the Oregon Trail. © Connie Ricca/CORBIS

In 1836, Presbyterian missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman established a mission to the Cayuse Indians at Waiilatpu in Oregon's Walla Walla Valley. Although the couple worked diligently to assist the Cayuse, constructing buildings, teaching their children and doctoring their sick, the Indians never took to the couple's outreach. Part of the reason was the Whitmans' lack of accommodating Cayuse customs and beliefs. For example, when the Cayuse wanted to hold a service in the Whitman home, as opposed to a church -- something appropriate in their culture -- Narcissa Whitman refused [source: PBS].

By 1842, church elders wanted to close the mission. Marcus Whitman traveled back East and persuaded them to give him more time. On his return, he hooked up with a wagon train of 1,000 pioneers, leading them to Waiilatpu to settle. The Cayuse became disgruntled that so many white people flooded their lands, and that the Whitmans had turned their attention to the new settlers. Then in 1847, disaster struck. A measles epidemic hit, killing half the Cayuse, including nearly all of their children -- yet most of the whites survived. Though the Whitmans attended to both groups, it seemed to the Cayuse that the couple was only curing the white people. Enraged, several Cayuse banded together and slayed 14 settlers, including the Whitmans. Several of those involved in the killings were later hanged. A few years later, the Cayuse, decimated in numbers, were absorbed by other tribes, ending their independent existence [source: PBS]. A terrible ending for everyone.


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