Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Marcus Whitman (September 4,1802–November 29,1847) was an American physician and missionary in the Oregon Country. He is famous for leading the first large party of wagon trains along the Oregon Trail, establishing it as a viable for the thousands of emigrants who used the trail in the following decade.
His father died when Whitman was seven years old. After his father's death, he moved to Rushville, New York to live with his uncle. He dreamed of becoming a minister but did not have the money for such a time-consuming curriculum. Instead, he studied medicine for two years with an experienced physician and received his degree from Fairfield Medical College . In 1834 he applied to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Two years later, Whitman married Narcissa Prentiss , a teacher of physics and chemistry. Narcissa had been eager to travel west as a missionary, but she had been unable to do as a single woman.
Marcus and Narcissa made an extraordinary team. They joined a caravan of fur traders and travelled west, establishing several missions as well as their own settlement, Waiilatpu , in the northern Blue Mountains near the present city of Walla Walla, Washington in the territory of the Nez Perce tribe of Native Americans. Marcus farmed and provided medical care to Nez Perce, while Narcissa gave classes to the Native American children. In 1843, Whitman travelled east. On his return voyage he helped lead the first large group of wagon trains west from Fort Hall, known as the "Great Emigration", that established the viability of the Oregon Trail for the many that followed.
The primitive health practices of the Native Americans and their lack of immunity to diseases such as measles fostered the belief among the Native Americans that Whitman was causing the death of his patients. The Indian tradition holding medicine men personally responsible for the patient's recovery resulted in the murder of the Whitmans in their home on November 29, 1847.
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