Congregationalist missionary Cushing Eells, founder of Whitman College, the oldest educational institution in Washington State, was born in Massachusetts on February 16, 1810. Eells established the college, located in Walla Walla, in 1859. He named the school in honor of fellow missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. Pioneers, the Whitmans helped open Oregon Territory to U.S. settlement.
In 1836, the Whitmans founded a mission among the Cayuse Indians at Waillatpu, six miles west of present-day Walla Walla. In addition to evangelizing, the missionaries established schools and grist mills and introduced crop irrigation. Still, their work advanced slowly jeopardizing funding. In 1842, Marcus Whitman journeyed East and convinced the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to continue support. Returning the following year, he joined approximately 1,000 settlers traveling to Oregon Territory. Without Whitman's aid the caravan might not have reached its goal.
With the sudden influx of settlers, tension between Native Americans and the pioneers escalated. Trouble erupted in 1847, when a measles epidemic killed a disproportionate number of Native American children. A practicing physician, Whitman was accused of using magic to eliminate Native Americans in order to make way for new immigrants. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and twelve other settlers were killed by Cayuse warriors on November 29, 1847. Known as the Whitman Massacre, this event precipitated the Cayuse War—a conflict that lasted until 1850.