The Whitman Massacre and Cayuse War

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In 1836, two missionaries named Marcus and Narcissa Whitman settled among the Cayuse people in Washington State. The Whitman’s quickly began planning for a settlement in the region and built a school, a grist mill, and began irrigating crops. Soon, nearly 1,000 settlers descended upon the region. The mass influx of settlers reeked havoc on the Cayuse people. About half of the tribe was killed by an outbreak of measles. The Cayuse believed that the Whitman’s were responsible for the outbreak, and that Marcus Whitman was an evil shaman who wanted to kill the Cayuse so more settlers could come to the region. On November 29, 1847, Cayuse warriors killed 14 settlers, including Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. For several weeks, 53 women and children were held as prisoners. They were eventually released. The event came to be known as the Whitman Massacre.

The following year, a force of 500 militia men supported by the United States Army attacked the Cayuse and other tribes in central Oregon. Although the Cayuse were able to mount some resistance, most of them were driven into the wilderness of the Blue Mountains. In 1850, after two years of hiding in the mountains, the Cayuse decided to hand over five of its warriors to be tried for the murder of the Whitman’s. All five were quickly convicted and sentenced to be hanged. Within a couple of years, almost all Cayuse land was confiscated by the U.S. Government and opened to White settlement.

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