Murder at the Mission: A Frontier Killing, Its Legacy of Lies, and the Taking of the American West

Viking. Apr. 2021. 464p. ISBN 9780525561668. $28. HIST
Journalist and author Harden (A River Lost) writes in the introduction to this book that history is often written by the victors; with that in mind he seeks to demystify one of the best-known stories of Western history: the deaths of Narcissa and Marcus Whitman in 1847. The Whitmans, Protestant missionaries, traveled to Oregon territory in 1836 along with Reverend Henry Spalding and his wife, settling in different locations. The author explains how the Whitmans and Spaldings had tense encounters with Cayuse people in the region, especially after a measles epidemic severely affected the tribe. Combining biography and history, the narrative continues to explain how the Cayuse community was impacted by settlers pouring into the rich valleys of present-day Oregon and Washington. Harden also offers a detailed recounting of interpersonal rivalries between missionaries and explains how religious and secular newspapers, engaging in propaganda, spread untruths about the Whitmans’ deaths. A highlight of the book is Harden’s inclusion of current information about tribes native to the Pacific Northwest and how they are still affected by the legacy of the Whitman massacre.
VERDICT Harden succeeds in bringing often-forgotten history front and center. A well-written, fast-paced account that is highly recommended to all readers.
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