So We Die
After ten years in Oregon, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman had largely abandoned their work among the Indians in favor of helping the wagon trains that now rolled ceaselessly across Cayuse lands.
think that the Cayuse hated Narcissa. And I think that when Narcissa turned
her back on the Indians, and when she dealt with them as sternly as she
did, with, I think, from her perspective, with all the right motives --
you have to tell people who were going to hell they were going to hell
-- that they came to really despise her. Way back in the early 1840s,
the Indians started telling the Whitmans to leave: 'We don't like to hear
this bad talk. Leave.' The Whitmans don't go."
In 1847, three years after the Sager children arrived, measles carried west with the emigrant trains swept through the Cayuse villages. Half the tribe died -- including most of the children. Despite Marcus Whitman's nursing, rumors circulated among the grieving Cayuse that he was secretly spreading the disease, not trying to cure it.
One afternoon, three Cayuses appeared at the door and asked to see Whitman. One of them was the chief Tiloukaikt. He had once seriously considered accepting the Christian faith, but now he had lost three children to the white man's sickness. When he got inside the house, he and the others shot and hacked Marcus Whitman to death.
Mother was standing looking out at the window when a ball came through the broken pane, entering her right shoulder. She clapped her hand to the wound... and fell backwards. She now forgot everything but the poor, helpless children depending on her, and she poured out her soul in prayer for them: "Lord, save these little ones!" was her repeated cry.
The Cayuse warriors carried the wounded Narcissa out of the house on a settee, killed her, then lashed her dead face. They set the hated mission buildings on fire.
Besides Marcus and Narcissa, eleven other whites were killed before it was over, including the two Sager boys. Joe Meek's daughter, sick with measles at the time of the massacre, died soon afterward. So did Hannah Sager, age six. The four surviving Sager girls were orphans once more.
Frontier militia pursued the Cayuse into the mountains. Finally, five Cayuse warriors -- including Tiloukaikt -- turned themselves in so that the rest of their people would not be hunted down. Before he went to the gallows, someone asked Tiloukaikt why he had surrendered: "Did not your missionaries teach us that Christ died to save his people?" he answered. "So we die to save our people."
Surely if the way of the pioneer is hard and beset with dangers, at least the long years bring at last the realization that life, patiently and hopefully lived, brings its own sense of having been part... of the onward move to better things -- not for self alone, but for others.
Catherine Sager, who had survived the massacre, would remain in Oregon, where she married a Methodist minister and bore him eight children -- one more than her mother, Naomi, had brought into the world.
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