Unsettled Ground

Unsettled Ground

The Whitman Massacre and Its Shifting Legacy in the American West

Cassandra Tate


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"A highly readable, myth-busting, fact-based story. [A] tale for all who love the West, its history and its truths."
—The Inlander

Historian and journalist Cassandra Tate takes a fresh look at the personalities, dynamics, disputes, social pressures, and shifting legacy of the Whitman Massacre—a pivotal event in the history of the American West—including the often-missing Indian point of view.

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, however, the Whitmans are more likely to be demonized as colonizers than revered as heroes. 

“[A] gripping adventure story...Tate’s account is a prism that allows us to see the multiple dimensions of a classic frontier conflict.
—Peter Stark, author of Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire

[Tate] tells the Cayuse’s side of the story with empathy and clarity...She writes with a flair and transparency unusual in such a meticulously researched book."--The Seattle Times


Cassandra Tate:
CASSANDRA TATE is a Seattle-based writer and editor. A former journalist, she earned a Ph.D in American history at the University of Washington in 1995. She is the author of Cigarette Wars: The Triumph of "The Little White Slaver." Her work has been published in Smithsonian, Columbia Journalism Review, and other national magazines, and she has contributed more than 200 articles to HistoryLink.org, the online encyclopedia of Washington State history. She is a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.