A Physical Description of Marcus Whitman

With the possible exception of an untitled sketch by artist Paul Kane, there are no known images of Marcus Whitman himself. Artists have used descriptions to help create paintings of Marcus. Artist Drury Haight created a painting of Marcus based on the Paul Kane sketch.

Marcus was described by many contemporaries:


Rev. Joel Wakeman in an 1898 issue of the Prattsburg, NY News describes Marcus Whitman as:

"His stature was medium, compactly built, well-proportioned, muscular, but not fleshy, a finely formed head…a bright, penetrating eye that seldom failed to read human character correctly, an aqualine nose, a benignant, expressive countenance." (Woodbridge, 1970: 6).

In 1834 Whitman described himself to the ABCFM as having iron-gray hair and deep blue eyes. William Gray, Whitman's associate said that Marcus had a large mouth. "Other descriptions indicate that Marcus was about six feet tall, weighed about 175 pounds, and was 'a rawboned man, muscular and sinewy, with broad shoulders, neck bent slightly forward, and firm-set limbs.'" (Woodbridge, 1970: 6).

William Mowry, in his book Marcus Whitman and the Early Days of Oregon describes the character of Dr. Whitman as:

"Dr. Whitman was a strong man, earnest, decided aggressive. He was sincere and kind, generous to a fault, and from the time he took up the missionary work to the Indians, he devoted every energy of his mind and body to the welfare of the Indian and the objects of the mission. He was fearless of danger strong in purpose, resolute and unflinching in the face of difficulties. At times he became animated and earnest in argument or conversation, but in general he would be called a man of reticence." (Mowry, 1901: 63).

The Sager girls, who had been orphaned on the Oregon Trail in 1844 and then formally adopted by the Whitmans, remembered him to be kind and loving, but firm.



Drury, Clifford M. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon. 1986. Pacific Northwest National Parks & Forest Association: Seattle, Washington.

Drury, Clifford M. Marcus Whitman, M.D., Pioneer and Martyr. 1937. The Caxton Printers, Ltd.:Caldwell, Idaho.

Mowry, William Augustus. Marcus Whitman and the Early Days of Oregon. 1901. Silver, Burdett: New York, New York.

Woodbridge, Ross. "Are These the Whitmans?" in The Whitman Alumnus: Whitman College Bulletin,Volume 73 (Number 5). 1970.

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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