Perrin B. Whitman

Lewiston Teller
Lewiston, Idaho, January 28, 1899

Perrin B. Whitman Dead.

P. B. Whitman died last Tuesday morning at 2 o'clock. The end came peacefully at the family residence in this city. After five years of encroaching disease his life ebbed away. He was surrounded at the end by all the immediate members of his family except Mrs. C. E. Monteith and Mrs. Dr. Ashford who live in Canada and in Oregon, respectively.

His end was not altogether a surprise. He had suffered from paralysis for five years. His early demise had been feared for two weeks, in fact, hope lingered only in the hearts of those who felt his death more than they could bear.

Perrin Beza Whitman was born in Danville, Vermillion county, III., March 4, 1830. His mother died when he was ten years old and he made his home with a great uncle, Captain Henry Green who lived in New York. He remained in this refined home for three years and became much attached to his kinspeople. He attended school and made remarkable progress till his thirteenth year when he was accounted a good scholar for that time. His uncle, Dr. Marcus Whitman, an older brother of his father, after his historical visit to Washington made by a winter ride across the plains to save all this Northwest to the American flag, visited Capt. Henry Green in the early spring of 1843. This nephew Perrin, a motherless boy, attracted the great political missionary and he set up a plea, first with his guardian, then with the boy, for his companionship on the return journey and to make him his own by adoption. Captain Green, the uncle who had become greatly attached to Perrin, sorrowfully yielded to the pleadings. Then followed a visit to the old home in Rushville, New York, and there the father and grand mother consented to the legal adoption of the boy Perrin by Dr. Marcus Whitman. Within five days the boy of thirteen bade his old home farwell and from that day till the massacre at Waiilatpu mission the history of the martyr, Dr. Marcus Whitman, is the history of Perrin B. Whitman.

The purport of the journey across the plains, with all its importance, is told in history. Dr. Whitman had secured the promise of President Polk and Secretary of State Daniel Webster that if wagons could he taken to the Oregon coast the country for which Dr. Whitman stood sponser, should be retained at all hazzards, otherwise it would be passively relinquished to the English in accordance with the wishes of the Hudson Bay company's agents who predominated in the Northwest at that time. "The boy Perrin," as his illustrious uncle affectionately called our departed pioneer, was an important character in this event and he has helped to make a great deal of our more modern history.

Soon after his arrival at the mission he took up with his other studies the Indian languages of the Northwestern tribes. He was encouraged in this study by his uncle who looked forward to the betterment of the aborigines, and this boy was to be his life companion in the chosen work. The knowledge gained served him well in after years. He became the best scholar in the field of Indian lore and language in the Northwest, and he translated the Bible into the Nez Perce language, and published an Indian dictionary. He accomplished far more than any other man in keeping peace between whites and Indians; more than all the officials and military force combined. Every treaty of peace ever signed in the Northwest was promoted through his influence. When the Nez Perces were assembled in 1861 by the government to make their first important treaty, an old chief arose and said: You told us when you called us from our homes that our good friend Whitman would meet us here. I do not see his face among you. You are all strangers. We have important business to talk over. We are afraid since Goodman Whitman is not here. He always talks straight even when his knees shake with fear. If we were to receive justice this goodman would be here. If not we must stop now."

The deliberations did stop, and a messenger was sent to Salem, Oregon, after P. B. Whitman, the government paying him $100 per day to come and arrange the treaty with the Nez Perces. Mr. Whitman thereafter filled the position of government interpreter for several years.

At the time of the Whitman massacre, when the doctor and 12 other members of the Waiilatpu mission were sacrificed, young Herrin was at the Dalles, Oregon, in charge of a store, and did not hear the sad news for 17 days, when a friendly Nez Perce traveler told him not only of the massacre, but that a reward of 100 horses was offered for his (Perrin's) scalp. It was deemed necessary to remove the young man because he was in position to furnish much reliable information about the motives of the crime and the perpetrators. Almost at the same time it developed that he was a prisoner in the store, for some Cayuse Indians were at hand prepared to take his life. All the white people at The Dalles collected in a log house and with a few old guns and axes prepared for a siege. Young Whitman stood at a door all night awaiting an attack with an axe in hand. In the silence of the night he heard the announcement of an Indian courier that the white volunteers were coming, The besieging Indians then decided, and so gave the order, that they must kill "the boy" and flee before daylight, they said "the boy" knows us and we can be saved from the soldiers by killing him before he tells the soldiers what he knows. With this death sentence ringing in his ear he stood at the door with the axe, gaining some hope from the fact that an axe handle was longer than a tomahawk. But just as the Indians formed in a rush line an alarm was sounded that the white soldiers were upon them. It happened that some Indians came galloping in a distance and in the moonlight they were mistaken for whitemen. The Indians fled in alarm with "the boy" so nearly a victim of their vengeance. The soldiers however did not arrive for two days after the Indians took flight.

Mr. Whitman always retained the confidence of the government which he served many years and the Indians with whom he transacted so much important business, retain all of their old time love for his memory. His last public service was in the promotion of the late treaty with the Nez Perces. Though he was then feeble he was asked to perform some delicate missions to gain the confidence of old Indian friends in the furtherance of the scheme of allotment. He even made a long journey during the winter at a sacrifice to induce some stubborn natives to submit to the plan of land selection in severalty and of allotment. This was undertaken upon the proof that it was necessary to secure the treaty which meant so much to our people. He secured the necessary signatures, and so even this latest treaty with these Indians is in a measures due not only to this last effort but to his persistent teaching.

He was married in 1845 in Salem, Oregon, to Miss Catherine Parker, daughter of Rev. Samuel Parker, a pioneer missionary. The family came to Lapwai in 1862 and they have made the Lewiston valley their home since that date. Mrs. Whitman and five daughters survive the good, loving, noble husband and father. Of these children Mrs. Ashford lives in eastern Oregon and Mrs. Monteith is with her husband who fills a U. S. government position in Chatam, Canada. Mrs. Barnett, Mrs. Mallory and Mrs. Barton were at his bed side at the last.

Contributed by Natalie Huntley

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