Fortieth Anniversary of a Speeding Ticket

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that this year my husband and I celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary. We started dating in March 1977 and were married that November. We were apart for most of the summer of 1977, each working in different locations after our first year of law school. But he came to visit my hometown of Richland, Washington, where I had an internship with a local law firm, for a long weekend around the Fourth of July.

As he got off the plane in the desert, he said, “You poor kid—you grew up here?” And his opinion of Richland never improved.

When I had visited his hometown the month before, we’d toured some of western Missouri. So I returned the favor in July, and took him around my favorite haunts in Washington State. We waterskied on the Columbia River with my younger siblings. We took a day trip to Mount Rainier, where we hiked in snowfields—we shivered in our shorts, which we’d worn because of the heat in southeastern Washington around Richland; I’d forgotten how cold and gray the Cascades could be even in midsummer.

See the brown land between Richland (upper left) and Walla Walla (lower right). The Whitman Mission is near  Walla Walla.

And one day we drove to the Whitman Mission—the day trip of my childhood. My husband-to-be drove my parents’ Capri through rolling hills covered in brown wheat to the mission near the town of Walla Walla. On the way home, back through the wheat fields, he climbed a hill and sped down it. Not that fast, but above the speed limit.

Flashing lights and a siren behind him. A cop. A speeding ticket. A silent ride back to Richland.

My law-abiding fiancé was mortified. There he was, driving his future father-in-law’s car, and he got a ticket.

But my father was very good about it. He didn’t give my fiancé a hard time at all. Hubby-to-be paid the fine, and that was that.

At the Whitman Mission. If we’d been in a covered wagon, we would not have exceeded the speed limit.

Through the years, my father brought it up every so often, chuckling when he did so. But he didn’t mention it any more frequently than my husband did. All in all, they had a good relationship, despite this rocky beginning.

The only beef my father really had with my husband was that Dad wanted my husband to call him “Tom” instead of “Mr. Claudson.” My husband never relented.

That day trip in July 1977 was the last time I went to the Whitman Mission, though the site and Narcissa Whitman played an important role in my novel Lead Me Home. In later years, our family passed through Walla Walla on our way to ski at the Bluewood Resort in the Blue Mountains, but we never stopped at the mission. And my memories of that last visit are lost to me—all I remember of that day is the speeding ticket.

What memories do you have of traffic stops and tickets? Or of similar embarrassing events during your courtship?

Author’s Blog Chain

I’ve been asked to participate in an Author’s Blog Chain this week, which gives me the opportunity to tell you more about my writing.

Juliet Kincaid, a Kansas author and member of the local Sisters in Crime chapter, tagged me on her blog, Juliet Kincaid, Writer. Juliet has recently written a series of cozy mysteries featuring Cinderella, P.I., as well as January Jinx, the first book in her new series of historical mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900. These are all available on Amazon.com.

Please check out Juliet’s blog or follow her on Facebook to find out more about her writing.

This author’s blog chain asks me to answer four questions.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently editing my two novels on the Oregon Trail. I have edited the first novel pretty thoroughly, but it probably needs one more edit to slim it down a little. I am spending most of my time now on the second novel in this series, and I’m just part way through this re-write. I’m working hard with a critique group and I’m focusing on plot development.

There is a third novel in this series, but it is still in my head. I may also write a novella about two of the supporting characters in my Oregon Trail series.

Family Recipe front cover finalI also plan to publish another anthology of my short stories, essays, and poems this spring—a follow-up to my Family Recipe anthology published in 2012.

Meanwhile, last October, I published another novel under a pseudonym—a contemporary thriller. It is completely different from my Oregon Trail books.

How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

In my first Oregon Trail novel, which focuses on a wagon company traveling the trail in 1847, I tried to be historically accurate, down to where the emigrants camped each night. I relied on old diaries of real emigrants that year to determine how far they traveled, where they stopped, and what they did along the way. Some of them went on sight-seeing trips away from the wagons to avoid another boring day of walking the trail. Some of those day trips made their way into my novel.

cropped-mc9001498821.jpgI used terrain maps to find the gullies and hills mentioned in the old diaries, but I’ve had to allow for the development of the land over the last 160+ years. Still, it is amazing how much one can learn from Google Maps! Many of today’s urban routes are still named “Emigrant Road” or some other designation showing that the pioneers passed that way.

The second book in my series has a broader sweep—encompassing events from 1848 through 1850 in both Oregon and California. My challenge in this book has been to make sure my chronology depicts accurate times for letters to reach from one territory to the other. At the same time, I have to be careful not to bore today’s audience used to instant communication through emails and texts. What else can happen while I wait for one character to learn what the other has been doing?

My novels are suitable for any audience from high school through adult. They could be used as an adjunct to a high school level American history class, as well as (I hope) telling a good story.

Why do you write what you write?

I am in awe of the courage it took our ancestors to travel thousands of miles to unknown lands, hoping for a better life for themselves and their children. The challenges of the Oregon Trail have caught my imagination because I have lived at both ends of the trail—now in Missouri, but I grew up in Oregon and Washington. I have traveled the trail backwards!

whitman_missionGrowing up, my family took several day trips to the Whitman Mission over the years. The frightful massacre of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and others at their mission scared me as a child. As I have researched and written these books on the Oregon Trail, I have discovered how complicated history can be when seen from multiple perspectives.

How does your writing process work?

The main characters in my novels have been in my head for over twenty years. But I find as I write their stories that they are not always who I thought they were. They put their own voices in my head, and sometimes move in directions I do not anticipate.

Because these books are historical fiction, I am bound by history. One of my main goals is to be historically accurate. But I also want to tell a good tale, to make my readers care what happens to these fictional emigrants.

When I began writing the first novel, I knew where and when in 1847 they left Independence, I knew when they would arrive at the Whitman Mission (before the Whitmans died), and approximately when they would arrive in Oregon. I knew the general route they took, but I had to make some decisions about particular short-cuts available in 1847—which route would they take?

Beyond that, I let the characters develop their conflicts. Some characters took over at certain points, and I let them run with it. Any time you put a group of people together, there is plenty of conflict!

For the second book, kind of like Forrest Gump, I had certain places I wanted one of my characters to be at a certain time—like when gold was discovered in California in 1848. I am working the plot around those incidents, but it is still a work in process. Sometimes it’s easy to set the chronology, and other times I have to really work at it.

* * *

Thank you for taking the time to read about my forthcoming novels. I’ve been blogging about them for two years now. Someday they will be ready for prime time, and you will be the first to know.

I am tagging another author to continue this author blog chain—Beth Lyon Barnett, author of another historical novel, Jazz Town, who blogs at Beth’s Everything Blog. I know she is hard at work on her second novel, and I hope she will tell you about it soon. Hop over to her blog to find out more about her work.

Fort Nez Perce to The Dalles: By Water or By Land?

Fort Nez Perce

Fort Nez Perce

In 1817, the North West Company established Fort Nez Perce where the Walla Walla River met the mighty Columbia. In 1821, that fur trading company merged with Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821, which then operated the fort. Fort Nez Perce remained active until 1857, when the U.S. Army built a new fort nearby named Fort Walla Walla.

Fort Nez Perce

Fort Nez Perce

The early emigrants to Oregon made Fort Nez Perce a stopping point. Many first rested at the Whitman Mission after it was established in 1836, then traveled the 20 miles along the Walla Walla River to Fort Nez Perce. Imagine their joy at seeing the huge Columbia rolling toward the Pacific—the last leg of their arduous journey.

No matter how relieved they were to reach this milestone of the trek, at Fort Nez Perce the travelers had yet another a difficult decision to make: Should they abandon their wagons and teams at the fort and build or buy boats to take them down the Columbia? Or should they continue with their wagons along the river’s south shore?

Both paths were fraught with danger. And most emigrants didn’t reach this point until the middle of September or later. Winter would come soon, their supplies were running low, and they were already physically and mentally exhausted after five months on the trail.

Marker for Fort Nez Perce, with Columbia River in background, photograph by Lyn Topinka

Marker for Fort Nez Perce, with Columbia River in background, photograph by Lyn Topinka

By Water: The emigrants who decided on boat travel built large rafts for their possessions or purchased canoes from the Indians. But river travel was treacherous. In 1843, the first year of large migration to Oregon, a canoe capsized the first day after leaving Fort Nez Perce near the mouth of the John Day River downstream.

These travelers were rescued, but others making the river voyage were not so lucky. Jesse Applegate lost a son and nephew to the Columbia. This tragedy drove him to create a southern route into Oregon City a few years later, which allowed later emigrants to avoid the river route.

Sign for Fort Walla Walla, photograph by Lyn Topinka

Sign for Fort Walla Walla, photograph by Lyn Topinka

Moreover, travelers who took the river route had to stop for portages at both the mouth of the Deschutes River and at The Dalles, where huge cascades stopped all boat traffic. At these portages, all rafts had to be disassembled, the raft parts (or canoes) and all possessions portaged around the falls, and then reassembled, before the journey to Oregon City could continue.

Nevertheless, despite the portages, the river route was faster. It took only four or five days of travel from Fort Nez Perce to The Dalles.

By Land: Those who feared the Columbia or who wanted to bring their herds of livestock to Oregon had no choice but to travel along the river’s southern bank. These emigrants slowly rolled their worn wagons on the sandy, narrow shoreline strewn with huge boulders and backed by perpendicular cliffs rising 100 feet above the Columbia.

Land route in Northeast Oregon

Land route in Northeast Oregon

They had to climb these steep cliffs to ford the numerous tributaries of the Columbia, then work their way back down the western side of the gorges. Their teams were weary and could find little forage amidst the sand and sage and rock. It could take twelve yoke of oxen to manage one wagon on these hills.

Moreover, the shore route took longer—at least a week from Fort Nez Perce to The Dalles.

No wonder the later emigrants to Oregon searched out routes that avoided the Whitman Mission and Fort Nez Perce. By 1844, many Oregon Trail travelers joined the Columbia at the Umatilla River, saving days of travel. After the Whitman Massacre in 1847, this portion of the trail was seldom used.

What choice would you have made – by water or by land?

Jesse Applegate and the Great Migration of 1843

Jesse Applegate, drawn by a nephew

Jesse Applegate, drawn by a nephew

In May 1843 – 170 years ago this month – Jesse Applegate and his brothers and their families left Missouri for Oregon. They were among the early pioneers to Oregon, four years earlier than the emigrants of 1847 in my novel about the Oregon Trail. In fact, 1843 was the first year of significant migration to Oregon; the travelers that year and their lengthy wagon trains became known as “the Great Migration.”

The Applegate party faced many difficulties along the way. The first problem arose because families with livestock could not keep up with emigrants not herding cattle. The wagon train divided into the faster group and the “cow column,” which lagged behind the others. Jesse Applegate was the leader of the cow column.

Jesse Applegate later wrote a reminiscence entitled “A Day with the Cow Column in 1843,” which was published by the Oregon Pioneer Association in 1876, and re-published in the Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Dec. 1900). In this account, we hear his perspective of a day on the trail, from the time they arose at 4:00am, until the evening watch began after supper at 8:00pm. It is a fascinating story of life on the trail, and one I referred to frequently in drafting my novel.

The greater difficulty the Applegates faced came after they abandoned their wagons at the Whitman Mission, and built boats to float down the Columbia River. One of Jesse’s sons and one of his nephews, both nine years old, drowned when a boat capsized on the Columbia – a frequent occurrence as the boats pitched over rapids in the roiling current. I grew up on the Columbia, but not until after it was dammed. The river today is nothing like what the emigrants of the 19th century faced.

Applegate Trail, the northern-most red line

Applegate Trail, the northern-most red line

As a result of the tragedy the Applegates suffered on the Columbia, Jesse, who had been a surveyor in Missouri, and his brothers decided to improve the route to Oregon. In 1846, the Oregon Provisional Legislature authorized Jesse to survey a southern route into Oregon City. The route he blazed passed from Fort Hall, in what is now Idaho, along the Humboldt River in present-day Nevada, before moving into California and through southern Oregon into the Willamette Valley. This route came to be known as the Applegate Trail.

Here is part of the letter Jesse Applegate wrote dated August 10, 1846, “to future emigrants” at Fort Hall:

Gentlemen:

The undersigned are happy to inform you that a southern route to the Willamette, has just been explored, and a portion of the emigration of the present year are now upon the road. . . .

The new route follows the road to California about 320 miles from this place, and enters the Oregon Territory by the way of the Clamet [Klamath] Lake, passes through the splendid vallies of the Rogue and Umqua rivers, and enters the valley of the Willamette near its south eastern extremity.

The advantage gained to the emigrant by this route is of the greatest importance—the distance is considerably shortened, the grass and water plenty, the sterile regions and dangerous crossings of the Snake and Columbia rivers avoided, as well as the Cascade Mountain—he may reach his place of destination with his wagon and property in time to build a cabin and sow wheat before the rainy season. This road has been explored, and will be opened at the expense of the citizens of Oregon, and nothing whatever demanded of the emigrants. . . .

Many emigrants used the Applegate Trail to get to the California gold fields after the 1848 discovery of gold. In fact, Jesse and his brother Lindsay both left Oregon in 1848 to seek their fortunes in California. They did not stay, but returned to Oregon in 1849 to farm in the Umpqua Valley.

The Applegates’ tale has fostered the imagination of other writers in addition to myself. Jesse’s great-great-granddaughter, Leta Neiderheiser, published a book, Jesse Applegate: A Dialog With Destiny, that recounts his life.

A Novel Blog Hop: Lead Me Home

J.G. Burdette, who blogs at Map of Time: A Trip into the Past, tagged me to participate in a Blog Hop for authors.  What’s a blog hop? This one is an interview with ten questions posed to a writer about the novel he or she is writing. The author answers the ten questions and then selects five more writers they would like to interview.

This gives all our readers an opportunity to learn what we – and our writing friends – are working on. I appreciate the opportunity J.G. has given me to write about my book. I hope you enjoy reading about my work in progress, and please go read about the writers I’m tagging at the end of this post.

1.      What is the working title of your book? 

MC900149882Lead Me Home

2.      Where did the idea come from for the book? 

I’ve had the idea of a novel about a couple traveling the Oregon Trail in my head for more than 20 years. Given the nature of the story, it had a definite beginning (Missouri) and end (Oregon), though I had to research the route they traveled mile by mile.

As I wrote, the characters shaped their path more than I anticipated.

3.      What genre does your book fall under?  

Historical fiction. It is aimed at adults, but many young adults will appreciate it also. It is history with fictional characters, it is story with historical grounding, so read it as either.

4.      Which actor would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 

Wow. This is a hard question to answer. Mac and Jenny are both young characters, so by the time we are ready to film we will have to look to an unknown crop of actors for casting. Therefore, I’m not naming current young actors for the roles.

For the hero, Caleb “Mac” MacDougall, think Michael Landon as he appeared in Bonanza, but with straight hair. Mac is in his mid-20s and a proper Easterner when Lead Me Home opens, but he soon adapts to life on the trail.

My young heroine, Jenny Calhoun, is only 14 when the story begins. She looks like the young Jennifer Garner on the cover of the Rose Hill DVD, but with lighter hair. My Jenny has faced great tragedy in her short life. She comes across as docile, but has a spine of steel, and holds her own on the way West.

5.      What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

Caleb “Mac” MacDougall, a young Boston attorney, and Jenny Calhoun, a teenage girl with no friend except Mac, confront disaster, duplicity, death, and their own ignorance and fears, as they travel by wagon to Oregon in 1847.

6.      Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Uncertain. I’m leaning toward self-publishing. I self-published Family Recipe to learn how that process works.

7.      How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About a year. I’d done a lot of research before I began writing, but had to stop frequently to do more research as I wrote. What were the banking procedures in 1847 anyway? How far up the Missouri River did steamships travel? When was Fort Kearny built? Every day brought a new question.

8.      What other books would compare to this work within your genre?

Westerns such as Lonesome Dove or True Grit.  Francis Parkman’s classic account, The Oregon Trailcovers much of the same territory in the same time frame, but his book is a travelogue without the character-based plot my novel has.

9.      Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Whitman Mission

Whitman Mission

As I’ve written before, I’ve always been intrigued by the courage of the emigrants who traveled the Oregon Trail. I grew up near the Whitman Mission, and my family took several day trips to visit the museum there when I was growing up. I now live near Independence, Missouri, one of the jumping off places for Oregon Trail. Both Independence and the Whitman Mission are important settings in my novel.

Also, my own family history included settlers in Oregon in the 1840s.

10.  What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There is a sequel involving Mac and Jenny, tentatively titled Now I’m Found, that deals with the California Gold Rush of 1849.

I’ve completed drafts of both books. Lead Me Home needs another edit to take out about 10,000 words. Now I’m Found has only been through one draft, so it still needs substantial work.

But because I have another project in the works ahead of these two novels, it will be into 2014 before Lead Me Home is ready to publish. I’ll keep you posted!

* * *

Here are the writers I have tagged.  All of them have blogs and/or websites, and they all have recent publications.

  • Pamela Boles Eglinski – Author of a new historical novel, Return of the French Blue, you can find out more about Pam at her website, http://pamelaboleseglinski.com/.
  • Sally Jadlow – Author of several books, including the historical novel The Late Sooner and the recent inspirational series beginning with God’s Little Miracle Book, Sally’s current blog is God’s Little Miracle Book, and her website is http://www.sallyjadlow.com/.
  • Linda Joyce – Author of a new romance novel, Bayou Born, published by the Wild Rose Press, Linda blogs at Linda Joyce Contemplates.
  • Norm Ledgin – Norm has written several books, fiction and nonfiction. His latest is Sally of Monticello, a historical novel about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. Follow Norm at Norm Ledgin, Author/Speaker

Thank you, J.G. Burdette, for tagging me to write about Lead Me Home.

Did you enjoy this post? If so, please share it! And check out the authors I’ve listed. If you have any questions about my work in progress, please comment below.

P.S. to my five “tagees”:

  • Use a format similar to this post if you want to share information about your work on your blog or website
  • Answer the ten questions about your current work
  • Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them. 

Accidents on the Oregon Trail: Catherine Sager Pringle

This past week, while I’ve been caring for my daughter with a broken leg, I’ve thought about the injuries the pioneers to Oregon suffered on their journey. Accidents and disease were much greater risks to the emigrants than Indians, despite what we see in Western movies.

One of every seventeen emigrants died along the trail. Almost every account of travel on the Oregon Trail contains one or more descriptions of broken bones, gunshot wounds, drownings, or other calamities.

Catherine Sager Pringle, mentioned in an earlier post,  broke her leg while traveling the plains in 1844, when she was nine years old. She survived, but had a permanent limp as a result.

This is how Catherine described her injury:

August 1st we nooned in a beautiful grove on the north side of the Platte. We had by this time got used to climbing in and out of the wagon when in motion. When performing this feat that afternoon my dress caught on an axle helve and I was thrown under the wagon wheel, which passed over and badly crushed my limb before father could stop the team. He picked me up and saw the extent of the injury when the injured limb hung dangling in the air.

In a broken voice he exclaimed: “My dear child, your leg is broken all to pieces!” The news soon spread along the train and a halt was called. A surgeon was found and the limb set; then we pushed on the same night to Laramie, where we arrived soon after dark. This accident confined me to the wagon the remainder of the long journey.

My daughter had a titanium rod inserted in her leg to position it correctly and provide support as she recovers. She received antibiotics to reduce the chance of infection and pain killers to keep her comfortable.

Think of Catherine recovering from a broken leg after her accident, lying in a wagon that jostled and swayed over every rock and hole in the ground for hours at a time, and for the long weeks it took to get from Fort Laramie to Oregon. Because she was a child, Catherine probably didn’t even get alcohol to dull the pain.

When I am tempted to romanticize the pioneer life or to bemoan the frenzy of our modern world, it helps to remember that some things – and medical care is one of them – are substantially better than they were 150 years ago.

Catherine,  Elizabeth, and Matilda Sager in 1897

Catherine, Elizabeth, and Matilda Sager in 1897

A crushed leg was not the last disaster in Catherine’s life. Both her parents died of illness before the wagon train reached Oregon. Other families in the wagon company cared for Catherine and her siblings, until the orphans were left with Marcus and Narcissa Whitman at the Whitman Mission.

Three years later, in 1847, the Whitmans were killed by Indians. The surviving Sager children were farmed out to live with other families. Later, one of Catherine’s sisters was killed at age 26 by an outlaw.

Despite these tragedies, Catherine survived. She married a Methodist minister, Clark Pringle, and had eight children. She lived to be 75, and died in 1910.

Catherine wrote a detailed account of her life as an emigrant and at the Whitman Mission. Her saga was not published until after her death, but it is now deemed one of the most authentic records both of life along the Oregon Trail and of the Whitman Massacre.

Whitman Mission

Drawing of the Whitman Mission

I mentioned in an earlier post that I wrestled with whether to set my Oregon Trail novel in 1847 or 1848. I decided on 1847, because I wanted my characters to stop at the Whitman Mission. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, early pioneers to the Oregon Territory, were killed by Cayuse Indians in November 1847, so I had to have my wagon train reach their mission before that date.

My interest in the Whitman Mission began when I was a child growing up in Richland, Washington, just an hour’s drive from the site of the mission. My family took day trips to Walla Walla, Washington, to see the mission. The first diorama I ever saw was at the mission, depicting the events of the massacre.

Photograph of the Whitman Mission site

Whitman Mission was located in the Walla Walla River valley, surrounded by grassy meadows and rolling hills, just a few miles from where the Walla Walla flows into the Columbia River. The Whitmans established the mission in 1836. By the mid-1840s, they lived in a large white house. The mission also included adobe buildings where travelers could rest, a granary, a blacksmith shop, and a mill. The mission and its farms looked as well-established as many properties in the East.

The Whitman Mission was an important stop along the Oregon Trail. Shorter routes developed south of the mission, but if travelers needed food or medical assistance – and late in their journey, many were travel-worn – they went to the mission.

Photograph of remnants of the Oregon Trail at Whitman Mission site

The mission was a last chance for emigrants to replenish supplies before their push over the Cascades to Oregon City. For the first time in months, they could eat white bread and butter, potatoes and vegetables.

Those who were bringing cattle to Oregon could leave their herds in Oregon for the winter and retrieve them the following spring. Many remained at the mission for a week or two while they built boats for the remainder of their journey down the Columbia.

Other emigrants spent the winter with the Whitmans before continuing to Oregon City. They worked on the Whitmans’ farmland in exchange for a place to stay.

Narcissa and Marcus Whitman

In September 1847, Narcissa Whitman wrote of those staying at the mission in not very sympathetic terms:

Poor people—those that are not able to get on, or pay for what they need—are those that will most likely wish to stop here, judging from the past; and connected with this, is a disposition not to work, at any rate, not more than they can help.

As with all the forts and trading posts, the emigrants complained about the high costs of provisions. Their accounts of the journey show that they thought Marcus Whitman was as interested in commerce as in saving souls or treating disease.

For his part, Dr. Whitman believed that teaching the natives to farm was essential to their conversion to Christianity. Many of his letters survive, and one shows his interest in teaching the Cayuse to farm:

. . . although we bring the gospel as the first object we cannot gain an assurance unless they are attracted & retained by the plough & hoe, & in this way even before the language is acquired you may have the people drawn arround you & ready to hear your every instruction. And why should not this be our method of proceeding; Is it not what Paul meant when he said, “I become all things unto all men,” that he accommodated himself to the circumstances of the People? Why then should we not take the best, & may I not say, the only means to win them to Christ? Had I one doubt of the disposition of the Indians to cultivate I would not thus write; But having seen them for two season breaking ground with hoes & sticks & having given them the trial of the plough, I feel an entire confidence in their disposition & ability.

There were always tensions between the white and Indian populations, based on the changes that the Whitmans wanted the Cayuse to make in their way of life and on the increasing numbers of white emigrants to Oregon.

In November 1847, at the time of the massacre, there were 75 people at the mission.  Of those, 52 were travelers passing through the mission. Others were orphaned children from wagon trains left for the Whitmans to raise.

One of the orphans, Catherine Sager Pringle, who was thirteen at the time of the massacre, later wrote a detailed account of daily life at the mission and of the massacre.  See Across the Plains in 1844 (available on the PBS website for the series on The West). Catherine’s older brother John was one of those killed.

The massacre occurred after a measles epidemic swept through the Cayuse population. A wagon train of emigrants had brought measles to the mission in the autumn of 1847. The natives had no immunity. Half of the tribe died, while all but one white child recovered. The Indians blamed the Whitmans for the deaths of their people.

Mrs. Mary Saunders, whose husband Judge L.W. Saunders (a teacher at the mission school) died in the massacre, later described the situation:

Dr. Whitman treated the Indian children, but with very little success owing to the ignorance and superstition of their savage parents. They would take the medicine that he gave them, but at the same time, they still clung to their old remedy for all sickness, i.e., a sweating process followed by a plunge into cold water. The inevitable effect of such a treatment was …in almost every case… death. Altho Dr. Whitman explained to them the danger and warned them against it, his words were of no avail, and in their ignorance and superstition they blamed their kind friend for the death of their children and suspected him of trying to kill them off.

Of the 75 people at the mission, 14 were killed by the Indians. The Cayuse took many others captive.  The residents of Oregon mounted a rescue campaign, but it took months to rescue the captives. Ultimately, five Cayuse men were hanged for the killings in June 1850.

For more on the Whitmans, see Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon, by Clifford M. Drury (available on the National Park Service website for the Whitman Mission). Click here for the home page for the NPS website on the mission.