, January 15, 2008
Undocumented or fiction?
I had high hopes when I started reading this book. I began to get uncomfortable about the lack of footnotes to show the sources of his statements, and his treatment of the attack on the Whitman mission convinced me that this book is a travesty.
While other women at the Whitman mission noted that Lorinda Bewley was ill at the time of the attack, the author gives her other attributes. "Blonde, round-faced Lorinda Bewley...knew how to wrap a man around her little finger. Now at 22- the age of spinsterhood- she turned her charm" on Five Crows. Later, he writes that immediately after Dr. Whitman was attacked, Narcissa Whitman left her husband, and was killed in Lorinda's bedroom as No Horns was abducting Lorinda. Still later, he refers to Lorinda's testimony under oath about being outraged, and states that it stretches the imagination to think that Five Crows would have let Lorinda come to harm.
He describes the attack inside the Whitman mission as taking place in a stormy December night, with no one out and about, in a raid by Cayuse warriors, and downplays the role of Joe Lewis.
The time, setting and listing of events does not match the recollections and testimony of the survivors of the attack, such as Mary Marsh who wrote" It was on the 29th of November, about 2 o'clock in the afternoon that the Indians broke out and murdered the Doctor and Mrs. Whitman and eight others... I was washing the dishes when I heard the report of a gun. It was the gun that killed Gillion, the tailor. He was doing some sewing of some kind when an Indian stood in the door and shot him. At the same time the horrible work was going on outside. I and some others went upstairs where we could look from a window and see a part of the conflict near the Doctor's house.
Three or four men were butchering a beef there. I saw them engaged with quite a number of Indians. Mr. Kimball was dealing hard with several, he having an axe to fight with. He fought desperately for awhile but they killed him at last. I saw Mr. Hall chased by an Indian with an uplifed tomahawk (the Indian on a horse) but Mr. Hall made his escape. Meanwhile Mrs. Whitman had barred the doors and windows to keep them out of the house - but they broke in anyway. I saw them break into the house, led by Joe
In 1951, Myra Sager Helm wrote "Lorinda Bewley and the Whitman Massacre." Presented as history based on her interviews with survivors, it presents some curious conversations. As with this author, she wrote more than seems to be known, such as “Five Crow’s heart gave a leap”. If you make up dialog, and describe emotions, you can't claim to be a historian.
A new history has the opportunity to correct errors in past works, and help us understand what the people were really like, and why events took place. This book did not aim so high.
It would be one thing to give the Indian viewpoint on the events, but it is contemptible to claim that the victim brought on rape and mistreatment by her flirting.
If you wish to know Oregon history, read original sources, and do not waste your time with this.