November 29, 1847
Waiilatpu mission (near Walla Walla, Washington)
Members of the Cayuse tribe murder Marcus Whitman and 12 others, believing Whitman was poisoning the Natives as he treated them for measles
Whitman and others had immigrated west to build a Protestant mission with the intent of introducing Christianity to the Natives in the area. Around the same time, a Catholic church also began to preach to the indigenous peoples of the area, with growing tensions arising between the Protestant and Catholic groups. Additionally, Whitman and other settlers had begun to selectively poison foods, including a melon patch poisoned slightly to make any melon thieves sick, and tainted meat intended to kill any wolves in the area though some of the Natives ate this meat and became sick as well.
Shortly before the attack, a measles outbreak struck the area. Whitman administered medicine to both the white settlers and the indigenous people affected, but nearly half the white patients survived while very few of the Native patients did. The Natives believed that either Whitman was intentionally poisoning the Native patients or that the foreign religion forcing itself on the community was responsible for the outbreak (sources vary), and a plan was devised to rid the area of Whitman and the mission.
On November 29, several prominent Cayuse leaders visited Whitman, claiming to be looking for medicine. One distracted Whitman while another struck him twice in the head with a hatchet and a third shot him in the neck. The wounds were fatal but Whitman lingered for a few hours after the attack before dying of his injuries. Whitman’s wife, Narcissa, was shot as she went outside to look for other attackers, and retreated further into the mission. She was coaxed out under threat that the mission would be set on fire with her in it, only to be shot to death as she emerged. The mission was set on fire as was promised, and 54 women and children were taken as prisoners. Five of the prisoners died, primarily from measles, within the month the group was held captive until their release was purchased in exchange for weapons, blankets, and supplies.
Later, the leaders of the Cayuse were brought to trial and stated in their defense that, in their law, a medicine man who gives bad medicine is killed. The court ruling over the case did not accept this defense and the 5 leaders, Tiloukaikt, Tomahas, Kiamasumpkin, Iaiachalakis, and Klokomas, were publicly hanged on June 3, 1850.