Whitman College Drops Mascot Named for Murdered Oregon Trail Missionaries, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman

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The ‘Fighting Missionaries’ will no longer memorialize Marcus and Narcissa Whitman.

Whitman College hasn’t been affiliated with a religious denomination since 1907. But the Washington State school still used the “Fighting Missionary” as its mascot in honor of two murdered Oregon Trail missionaries—until last week.

The change stems from a desire to have a mascot that was “appropriately inclusive and welcoming to today’s Whitman community,” wrote president Kathleen Murray in a memo to the campus community. “I do not think a mascot … should precipitate the difficult conversations around challenging ideas. A mascot is meant to be something around which supporters of a college, and particularly athletic teams, rally.”

The college will not change its name, Murray confirmed.

Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were among the first settlers to travel west across the United States on what later became known as the Oregon Trail. Their story “reveals much of what was noble and flawed regarding missions to Native Americans,” noted CT’s Christian History in a past profile.

After the Whitmans arrived in the Oregon Territory in 1836, they founded a mission to the Cayuse tribe in the Walla Walla Valley. “Our desire is to be useful to these benighted Indians, teaching them the way of salvation,” wrote Narcissa.

But the Whitmans quickly offended the Cayuse after they condemned “cultural practices like gift-giving” as extortion and scorned the Native Americans’ value of worshipping in their own homes.

“With Oregon’s immigrant population exploding (thanks, in part, to the successful pioneering of the Whitmans), the Cayuse grew increasingly resentful of the Whitmans, whom they called ‘haughty,’” noted Christian History. When Marcus returned from successfully asking the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions not to close down one of his three mission stations, he brought fresh immigrants—and the measles.

As the “epidemic swept the area, killing many more Indians than whites, a small band of Cayuse took matters into their own hands [killing the Whitmans and a dozen other white settlers],” noted Christian History. “Eventually, five Cayuse were tried and executed for the killings. One of them announced on the gallows, ‘Did not your missionaries teach us that Christ died to save his people? So we die to save our people.’”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Morgan Lee