Sunday, September 5, 2010


‎".... my life was threatened daily, and I was forced to go heavily armed. The whole country was then full of militia, robbing, plundering and killing."

Jesse Woodson James, whose lively life began this day, 1847

So, September 4, was the 208th anniversary of the birth of doctor/missionary/Oregon Trail pioneer Marcus Whitman and I neglected to write about him yesterday. Boy oh boy, I once spent several satisfactory months writing and illustrating a book about him and his wife Narcissa. It graced no bestseller lists & sits on too few bookshelves, but the Whitmans lived lives worth knowing if only because their stories tell us so much about the larger story, the Westward Movement, ethnic misunderstandings, cultural hubris, & all. Were I not so dispirited and impatient right this very minute, busting to go out and take a walk on this lovely September Sunday, and needing to get back indoors to write some more about another 19th century American (Dr. Mary Walker, eccentric reformer, Medal of Honor winner, Civil War personality, a bit of a crackpot in her later years), I'd wax on a bit about Marcus & Narcissa & the deadly culture clash at the end of the Oregon Trail. I'll content myself with pointing out that Jesse James was not quite two months into his storied life when the Whitmans and a bunch of other folks at their mission were murdered way off to hell&gone west, in what would be the state of Washington, on 29 November, 1847. Who killed them? Men of the Cayuse, whose tribe was dying of measles, brought in by white settlers pouring into their land, one of the tribes they'd traveled clear across the country to convert to Christianity.
I'll say what Grandma used to say, when confronted with a little too much to handle: Horrors.

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