An Umatilla Account of the Whitman Massacre

This week’s article will highlight an infamous event from Oregon’s territorial history: the Whitman Massacre of 1847, in which the missionaries Dr. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were killed by Cayuse and Umatilla residents of the mission.  The precise causes of this violent episode were complicated, although it seems the perpetrators had been persuaded that the whites were trying to poison them.

Although this tale has often been told, what makes this version noteworthy is the teller.  She is Iphathalatalc of the Umatilla tribe, an aged woman at the time the article was written in 1903, but, in her youth, an actual eyewitness to many of the events described.  Although the reporter’s rendering of Iphathalatalc’s vernacular speech may well strike today’s readers as somewhat hackneyed, it is nonetheless fascinating to revisit this well-known historical episode from an authentic American Indian point of view.

Ip-ha-thal-a-talc’s Account–The Salt Lake Herald, November 22, 1903

Photograph by Major Lee Moorhouse, as captioned in Salt Lake Herald, November 22, 1903

The newspaper story is illustrated with four photographs taken by Major Lee Moorhouse of Pendleton.  These are only a tiny fraction of the thousands of photographic images of Indian life Moorhouse captured as Agent for the Umatilla Reservation between 1888 and 1916.  This body of work is of great historic importance, and is held in the permanent Archives of the University of Oregon Libraries.  A portion of the collection has been digitized, and can be accessed on the UO Libraries website:

Picturing the Cayuse, Walla Walla and Umatilla Tribes–UO Libraries Digital Collections  —Jason A. Stone

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