Excerpt From, "The Centennial History of Oregon 1811-1911"
By Joseph Gaston * Volume One

The most appalling horror in the history of Oregon and equal in demoniac savagery to anything in the history of the entire country was the unprovoked massacre of Dr. Marcus Whitman and wife, and twelve other persons at the Whitman missionary station in Walla Walla valley on November 29-30, 1847. And while there was not the sickening ferocity of burning at the stake which has in past times attended the deadly strife between competing races and rival creeds, yet that element of diabolical depravity was more than equaled in the fact that the victims of this bloody deed were purely, honestly and patiently sacrificing their lives to benefit and lift up the savages that struck them down.

The actual facts of the bloody deed are briefly stated. During the forenoon of the day on which the massacre was executed Dr. Whitman assisted at the funeral of an Indian who had died during his visit to the Umatilla, and was struck with the absence of the tribe, many of whom mounted, were riding about, and giving no attention to the burial; but as there had been a slaughter of beef which was being dressed in the mission yard, an occasion which always drew the Indians about, the circumstances was in part at least accounted for. School was in session, several men and boys were absent at the saw-mill near the foot of the mountains; the women were employed with the duties of housekeeping and nursing the sick, and all was quiet as usual, when Whitman fatigued with two nights' loss of sleep entered the common sitting-room of his house and sat down before the fire to rest thinking such thoughts as - Ah! who will say?

While he thus mused, two chiefs, Tiloukaikt and Tamahas, surnamed "The Murderer," from his having killed a number of his own people, presented themselves at the door leading to an adjoining room, asking for medicines, when the doctor arose and went to them, afterward seating himself to prepare the drugs. And now the hour had come! Tamahas stepped behind him, drew his tomahawk from beneath his blanket, and with one or two cruel blows laid low forever the man of God. John Sager, who was in the room prostrated by sickness, drew a pistol, but was quickly cut to pieces. In his struggle for life he wounded two of his assailants, who, at a preconcerted signal had with others crowded into the house. A tumult then arose throughout the mission. All the men encountered by the savages were slain. Some were killed outright; others were bruised and mangled and left writhing back to consciousness to be assailed again until after hours of agony they expired. Dr. Whitman himself lived for some time after he had been stricken down, though insensible. Mrs. Whitman, although wounded, with Rogers and a few others also wounded, took refuge in an upper room of the dwelling, and defended the staircase with a gun, until persuaded by Tamsucky who gained access by assurances of sorrow and sympathy, to leave the chamber, the savages below threatening to fire the house. On her way to the mansion house, where the terror stricken women and children were gathered, she fainted on encountering the mangled body of her husband, and was placed upon a wooden settee by Rogers and Mrs. Hays, who attempted to carry her in this condition through the space between the houses; but on reaching the outer door they were surrounded by savages who instantly fired upon them, fatally wounding Rogers, and several balls striking Mrs. Whitman, who, though not dead, was hurled into a pool of water and blood on the ground. Not satisfied with this, Ishalhal, who had formerly lived in Gray's family, and who had fired the first shot at her before she escaped to the chamber from which Tamsucky treacherously drew her, seized her long auburn hair, now blood-stained and disheveled, and lifting up the head happily unconscious, repeatedly struck the dying woman's face with a whip, notwithstanding which life lingered for several hours.

It is unnecessary to relate the butchery of other innocent persons which lasted for several days and seemed to be carried on for the gratification of the savage mind. The victims of this awful tragedy were Dr. Marcus Whitman, Mrs. Narcissa Whitman, John Sager, Francis Sager, Crocket Bewley, Mr. Rogers, Mr. Kimball, Mr. Sales, Mr. Marsh, Mr. Saunders, James Young, Jr., Mr. Hoffman, and Isaac Gillen. Peter B. Hall, while not killed at the mission, fled to Fort Walla Walla, but was denied admission, and was never heard of afterward. And of the remaining persons at the Whitman mission, fifty-three in number, young and old and mostly women and children, none were spared from outrage of any sort that lust or thirst of blood could devise. In fact the sufferings inflicted on the survivors by the savages were even more horrifying than murder itself. Everything that the brutal Indian could suggest, or any mind could imagine, was inflicted not only on mothers whose husbands had been slaughtered but on little girls these mothers could not protect. Grown women and little girls were carried away to Indian tepees for wives and subjected to all the outrages that brutal lust could inflict. Miss Lorinda Bewley, a teacher of the Indian children, eleven days after the massacre was dragged from a sick bed and torn from the arms of sympathizing women, placed on a horse in the midst of a high fever and carried through a winter snow storm twenty-five miles to the lodge of an Indian chief named Five Crows, and there for weeks in her sick and enfeebled state forced to submit to the brutal outrages of the savage. During the day time she was allowed to visit the house where Vicar General Francis Norbert Blanchet, and Vicar General J.B.A. Brouillet, Catholic priests made their home, but at night was dragged back to the lodge of the Indian. Afterwards at the trial of these murderers at Oregon City, the girl testified that she cried and appealed to these priests to be protected either at the house of the priests, or to be by them sent to the Hudson's Bay Co.'s, Fort Walla Walla; but they would not interfere to protect her; and to add insult to injury the priest Brouillet asked her how she liked her new husband. The conduct of these priests towards this defenseless girl has been a matter of bitter recrimination between Protestants and Catholics for years. The priests themselves never offered any explanation of their conduct; and by their silence have permitted their critics and competitors in the missionary field to place whatever construction on their acts that ordinary reason and true manhood would dictate.

And here the two diverging lines of Christian civilization meet and clash again. They impinged and separated on the St. Lawrence. They proceeded on their own way across the continent and strike helmets on the Columbia. The Catholics and Canadian Frenchmen regarded the Indian as an inferior to be taught to obey orders, to believe in signs and metaphors, to trust the gowned priest who would make sure of his salvation with the Great Spirit. They did not want his lands, they only wanted him to hunt wild animals. All this suited the imagination and the comprehension of the Indian. But the Protestant missionary and American settlers approached the native from an entirely different stand-point. The missionary would regard him as a man and a brother to be educated, enlightened, and taught a system of theology that he could not prove; and worse than all else - to quit his wild ways and go to work raising potatoes and cattle. And the American settler was to the Indian a worse enemy than the missionary. He would fence up the land to raise grain and cattle, and build towns. That meant destruction of the wild game, the cutting off of the Indians natural sources of life, and his eventual extinction. The Indian could not put these ideas in words, but his self-preservation taught him the truth. Here was the plain difference between the two rival ethical and religious systems. One would appeal to the imagination, flatter the vanity and adroitly use the simple-minded barbarian to help carry the common burden. The other would appeal to his conscience and argue with him on propositions he could not understand, take his land and fight him. One succeeded and kept the Indian quiet; the other failed and bloody wars ensued.

The course of Whitman as a man of common apprehension, as the head of a family, and the manager of the mission is difficult to explain. Dr. McLoughlin had warned him of his danger, had called his attention to the fickle character of the Indian and explained to him that the Indians would on occasion kill their own "medicine" men. The honest old Indian friend, Sticcus, whom Col. Nesmith pronounced the only Christian Indian he ever met, had warned Rev. Spalding, and told him that the Indians had decided against the Americans. Whitman and Spalding were bosom friends and Whitman knew all that Spalding knew. Many other intimations had come to Whitman, and it was plain that the Doctor and his wife were in great trouble from great peril. Then why did he not secretly send off a courier to the Willamette valley for a guard to come to his relief? He could have got it for the asking. His course revealed a strange weakness or fatuity of conduct that cannot be explained.

Why did the Indians murder their friend? Three explanations were promitment in the great excitement of the times sixty-five years ago. First, that Dr. Whitman had given poison to the Indians sick with the measles which had been brought into the country and communicated to the Indians by the American immigrants of that year; and for that many Indians had died. Secondly, that the Americans were going to take all the good lands from the Indians and pay them nothing. Thirdly, that the Indians had been incited to the bloody deed the Hudson's Bay Co. and Catholic priests. The Indians engaged in the massacre themselves put forward the first excuse, even talking of it among themselves, as proven afterwards, before the murders were committed. A chief named Tamsucky took the lead in this part of the conspiracy. Tamsucky's squaw was sick, and it was agreed among the conspiring Indians to test the medicine proposition. They would give the sick squaw some of Whitman's medicine, and if she got well then the medicine was not poison; but if she died, then it was poison, and Whitman must be killed. They gave the woman the medicine and she died; then the massacre was decided upon and brutally executed.

As to the land taking excuse, there is no doubt that it had the effect to break down the influence of Whitman and alienate the Indians from him. They saw thousands of Americans coming every year. The first large immigration - 1843 - had been brought by or come in with Whitman himself, returning from the states that year. And every succeeding year the Americans came in increasing numbers and many of them stopped to see Whitman as a friend. There were also at that time twenty or thirty Iroquois Indians in Oregon, one a half-breed, Joe Lewis was staying at the Whitman mission. These were all enemies of the Americans and were continually poisoning the Indian mind against the Americans by telling the Indians the white men had robbed all the Indians beyond the mountains of their lands, and that they would do likewise in Oregon and that their only safety was to kill off all the whites before any more came over. This had a powerful influence, and all the prejudice concentrated against the victim Whitman.

As to the position of the Hudson's Bay Co. there never was any reasonable grounds to suppose the officials of that company had in any way connived at the murder of Whitman. McBean, the officer nearest to the Whitman station, acted in a very selfish and heathenish manner towards the excaping Americans; but that was accounted for by his general meanness of character as a man. McLoughlin, Ogden, and all others but McBean made common cause with the Americans in denouncing the outrage and in rescuing the unfortunate prisoners in the hands of the Indians. As to the Catholics, the Indians well knew of the difference between and the strife between the Catholics and Protestants; and like all the little-minded of mankind they doubtless thought they would secure the favor of the Catholics by killing off the Protestants.

If the golden rule or any other of the generally accepted precepts of the Christian religion had been observed by the Catholic priests in their propaganda of Christianity among the Indians, they would have left Whitman alone in the mission he had founded with great labor and personal sacrifice. If they had done so the massacre would in all reasonable probability not have been executed. There were thousands of Indians in widely separated fields where each sectarian could have exercised their labors and righteous purposes without intruding the one upon the other. And if such non-aggressive policy had been pursued each missionary would have had greater influence over the Indians and effected a greater measure of good works for the heathen, and at the same time safe-guarded the lives of those who trusted to the good will of the natives. So far as is known the Catholic missionaries did not in any way antagoinize the Indians or condemn the murders of Whitman and his family. And in return for such course the Catholics were in no wise molested or inconvenienced by the Indians. In the bitter feeling Which arose out of these atrocious murders, certain Protestants undertook to prove by the Indians themselves that the Indians had been urged to murder Whitman by the Catholic priest Father Brouillet; and the statements of the Indians were taken upon that point; but the charge could never get any other support than the statement of the rascal Joe Lewis [Indian] who said the priests told him Whitman was giving poison to the Indians to kill them off. And after this question was raised, Chief Umhowlish, a friend and believer in Whitman, and other Indians of good character investigated the report among the Indians, and none could be found that ever heard Brouillet make such a statement but Joe Lewis - who was not worthy of belief. But this investigation among the Indians uncovered the statements made by Brouillet to a number of Indians, that "Dr. Whitman was a bad man, and if they believed what he told them they would all go to hell, for he was telling them lies." And such a statement as this to unreasoning passionate savages, agitated by the death of their children, was in itself enough to precipitate a massacre.


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