Biography of Perrin Beza Whitman

The name of Perrin Beza Whitman is indelibly inscribed on the pages of the history of the northwest, for throughout the period of its development he was an active factor in promoting its interests and is numbered among the honored pioneers who made possible its later-day progress and prosperity. The lot of the pioneer of the northwest has been a peculiarly hard one. The Indians, driven from their hunting grounds farther east, have cherished the resentment characteristic of the race, and have met as foes the brave band of white men who came to the western wilderness to reclaim the lands for purposes of civilization and to garner the riches of nature for themselves and families. Not only were the pioneers met by the hostility of the Indians, but vast stretches of sandy plains and almost impassable mountains separated them from the comforts and conveniences of the east, and their lot was one of danger, difficulty, hardship and toil. A courageous spirit, an unconquerable determination and steadfast purpose, these were the qualities demanded of the pioneers, and such characteristics enabled Mr. Whitman to meet conditions before which many another man would have quailed.

He was the adopted son and nephew of the renowned Indian missionary, Dr. Marcus Whitman, who was massacred by the Indians in 1847. His birth occurred in Danville, Illinois, March 4, 1830. In 1840 he went to New York, and in 1843, when thirteen years of age, he crossed the plains to Oregon with his uncle and the first wagon train that made its way over the plains to the Columbia River. When Dr. Whitman was killed and the mission burned, the papers of his adoption were destroyed. His life was spared only through chance, he being at The Dalles when the massacre occurred. His uncle had sent him to that place to take charge of some property which he had purchased of the Methodist mission, and sixteen days intervened before our subject heard of the tragedy. A Mr. Hinman had gone to Vancouver, where he learned the news, which had been carried to that point by a Frenchman, and on learning of the sad event Mr. Hinman at once hurried back to The Dalles. While a consultation was being held to decide what had better be done about the matter, five Indians rode up, saying that they were hungry, and Perrin Whitman went to the barn with them and gave them in their blankets nearly half a bushel of wheat. They had placed their guns by the fence, and all at once they gave a tremendous yell, scattered the wheat out of the blankets and rode away, for they had discovered that the white men had learned of the killing and were in a measure prepared for them. At three o’clock on the following morning the pioneers at The Dalles started for Oregon City, knowing they were no longer safe at the former place, but after proceeding only sixteen miles on their way, a severe wind caused them to have to push ashore, and they were forced to remain at that point for sixteen days longer, days fraught with danger and suspense. After reaching Oregon City Mr. Whitman joined a party of volunteers that started out to arrest the Indians that had committed the crime, and also to relieve and protect the white men at the other mission. When all the volunteers had assembled there were several hundred of them, and Mr. Whitman piloted the boats up the Columbia River and also acted as interpreter to the Indians. Many of the savages who had been connected with the murder were killed, and five were tried, convicted and hung. At the time the volunteers were mustered out, it was requested that fifty should continue in service, and Air. Whitman was one of the number who acceded to the request. He was in the upper country when the Indians who had murdered his uncle were hanged, at Oregon City, and though he made all haste to reach the scene he arrived a day too late.

Later he secured a clerkship in a store, where he remained for two years, and on the expiration of that period he began buying and selling horses. He was married February 5, 1854, to Miss Priscilla M. Parker, of Salem, Oregon, a daughter of Samuel Parker, who was born in Virginia and crossed the plains in 1845. He was a lawyer of ability, a man of much prominence in the early history of Oregon, and was instrumental in securing the establishment of the capital at Salem. In his religious connections he was a Methodist, and in his political views he was a Democrat, but was a strong advocate of the Union cause during the civil war. He died in 1887, and the community in which he resided mourned the loss of one of its most valued citizens.

In 1863 Mr. Whitman came with his family to Idaho, locating in Lapwai, where he was employed by the government as an interpreter in the Indian schools, and also had charge of the Indian agency for a time. In 1883 he removed to Lewiston, where he was employed during the greater part of the time as a salesman. He was most trustworthy in business circles, reliable and honorable, and his enterprise made him a valued factor in the promotion of any business concern with which he was connected. In his religious belief he was a Presbyterian, and was a man of the highest integrity of character, who gained and retained the respect and confidence of all with whom he came in contact. He was at all times a loyal citizen of his adopted state, and did all in his power to promote its growth and advance its interests along educational, material, social and moral lines. He departed this life January 26, 1899, and his many friends mourned the loss of not only a valued citizen but of a gentleman whom to know was to esteem and honor,

Mr. and Mrs. Whitman were the parents of seven children, namely: Marcus S., who died in his eleventh year: Katherine, who became the wife of Mr. Barber and departed this life in her twenty-second year; Frances, wife of Charles E. Monteith, who is United States consul to Canada and resides in Chatham; Elizabeth K., wife of Henry K. Barnett, of Lewiston; Sophia, wife of William E. Mallory, a resident of Lewiston; Ethel, wife of Dr. Ashford, of Canyon City, Oregon; and Jennie, wife of T. D. Barton, of Lewiston, an ex-sheriff of Nez Perces county. There are now two granddaughters and seven grandsons. Mrs. Whitman survives her husband and makes her home with Mr. and Mrs. Mallory. She is one of the noble pioneer ladies of the state, and her splendid qualities of mind and heart have endeared her to all who have the pleasure of her acquaintance. The family is one of prominence in this community and the history of Lewiston would be incomplete without reference thereto.



Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.

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