Whitman, Marcus

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 Migration of 1843 over the Oregon TrailOregon Trail,
overland emigrant route in the United States from the Missouri River to the Columbia River country (all of which was then called Oregon). The pioneers by wagon train did not, however, follow any single narrow route.
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. The Cayuse around Waiilatpu, with whom the Whitmans were not on friendly terms, 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. This "Whitman legend" has been discredited.


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

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Whitman, Marcus

(1802–47) physician, missionary; born in Rushville, N.Y. He established a mission near present-day Walla Walla, Wash., in 1836. After returning east, he brought over 900 settlers to Washington in 1843. Following a measles epidemic in which many Indians died but most whites survived, he and his wife were killed by Cayuse Indians.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.