Whitman's father died when he was eight and his mother sent him and his four brothers and sisters away to be raised by relatives. He was away for 10 years.
He became a medical doctor and missionary to the Cayuse and Nez Perce people of Washington State. He and his wife were not very successful as missionaries, and in time transferred their attention to assisting white settlement in the area.
Their daughter died young, but they later fostered and adopted 11 orphans of Oregon Trail settlers, including a family of seven, the Sangers. In 1847 the mission station and the Cayuse people nearby were struck by a virulent measles epidemic, to which the Native Americans had no immunity. The missionary-doctors were unable to treat it effectively, many people died, and the missionaries were blamed (and it was the whites of course who brought the measles). In fear or revenge the mission was attacked and 14 people killed, including Whitman and his wife. The Whitman Massacre is one of the major events in the history of the American Pacific Northwest.
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