A nineteenth-century attack by Native Americans on a Presbyterian mission in what would become the Oregon Territory proved to be a turning point in the history of the American West. This book examines the tangled legacy of that event.
In 1836, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, devout missionaries from upstate New York, established a Presbyterian mission on Cayuse Indian land near what is now the fashionable wine capital of Walla Walla, Washington. Eleven years later, a group of Cayuses killed the Whitmans and eleven others in what became known as the Whitman Massacre. The attack led to a war of retaliation against the Cayuse; the extension of federal control over the present-day states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming; and martyrdom for the Whitmans. Today, the Whitmans are more likely to be demonized as colonizers than revered as heroes. Historian and journalist Cassandra Tate takes a fresh look at the personalities, dynamics, disputes, social pressures, and shifting legacy of a pivotal event in the history of the American West.