Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Jeanette Eaton’s Narcissa Whitman: Pioneer of Oregon is a historically accurate adventure narrative of the settling of Oregon, as well as an anthropological study of the Native Americans inhabiting the Oregon Territory in the mid-1800’s, specifically the Cayuse and Nez Perce tribes. The Whitman mission settlement, called Waiilatpu, became a trading post serving settlers who journeyed to claim the 640 acres promised by the United States government. By 1845, emigrants found a shortcut through the Cascade mountains and no longer needed Whitman’s station as the gateway to “the land of wonders.” This text recounts the emergence of Oregon into statehood and the struggle between the whites and the Native Americans for land and for individual cultures. Initially the Cayuse distrusted whites, but they gradually befriended them, accepting their medicine and some teachings. Conflicts festered, however, climaxing in 1848 with the burning of Waiilatpu and the massacre of the Whitmans and other men, women, and children in a vengeful attack to stop the whites from taking land and from infecting Native Americans with deadly diseases.

Contained within this true story and central to the book is the life of Narcissa Whitman, the first woman to cross the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and the Rocky Mountains to reach her dream of being a missionary. Because her husband, Marcus, was frequently absent, Narcissa was in charge at Waiilatpu. One of her joys...

(The entire section is 439 words.)