Missionaries, measles, and manuscripts: revisiting the Whitman tragedy
Keywords:Measles, Disease, Epidemics, Missionaries, American Indians
AbstractThe missionaries Marcus Whitman, a doctor, and Narcissa Whitman, his wife, and twelve other members of the Waiilatpu Mission were murdered in November 1847 by a small contingent of the Cayuse Indians in the Oregon Territory. The murders became known as the “Whitman Massacre.” The authors examine the historical record, including archived correspondence held at the Yale University Libraries, for evidence of what motivated the killings and demonstrate that there were two valid perspectives, Cayuse and white. Hence, the event is better termed the “Whitman Tragedy.” The crucial component, a highly lethal measles epidemic, has been called the spark that lit the fuse of the tragedy.
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