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Sunday, December 28, 2014

NARCISSA WHITMAN: PIONEER GIRL by Ann Spence Werner



Published in 1953 and 1959 by The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc
Intended for mid to upper elementary students.

Thirty-five years ago books like Narcissa Whitman: Pioneer Girl filled my library's book shelves in Hope, Indiana and I went through them like a hot knife through butter. I am sure they are a big reason why I enjoy history so much today. I remember enthusiastically reading about the adventures of young Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln and even about Martha Washington and other "yucky" girls as I worked my way down the shelf.
Narcissa Whitman.jpg
Narcissa Whitman (1808-1847)


I have next to my computer a 1959 hardback copy of Narcissa Whitman: Pioneer Girl, part of the Childhood of Famous Americans seriesI am happy to note that Patria Press out of Indianapolis is re-publishing some the series, which is a good thing in my mind.

This book focuses on Narcissa Prentiss (who later in the book marries and becomes Narcissa Whitman), a young pioneer girl on the frontier in western New York in the early 1800s. As of the title of the series implies, most of the book deals with her childhood, including helping neighbors with emergency health issues, siblings who wander off, the difficulties of cooking over an open fire, bears wandering through your homestead and the excitement that comes with the visit of a travelling peddler.

Later on in life Narcissa Prentiss married a Methodist missionary candidate named Marcus Whitman. They trained and then headed on the Oregon trail, settling in the area around modern-day Walla Walla, Washington. She was one of the first women to travel the Oregon trail, arriving before the United States and England had settled their dispute over the territory. 

Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were killed by members of the Cayuse nation during the Cayuse War (1847-1855). This biography does a very poor job of explaining why the war started and why the Whitmans died, it only mentions that they were killed by Native Americans. 

On the whole, when the book discusses Native Americans it is factual, but biased. It says that there were misunderstandings between the settlers and the Indians but does not tell what they were or how they developed. It also gives the distinct impression that the Indians were dished out retribution and only the settlers were victims. If the book were used in a classroom, I would supplement it with additional discussion and readings. My 3rd grade daughter is getting this book once I am done writing this review and I plan to preface her reading with a simple two minute discussion about why the settlers and the Indians would have problems with one another.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5. It is out of print but you can get it at Amazon.com here: Narcissa Whitman, pioneer girl (Childhood of famous Americans). It costs $11.99 plus shipping at the time this review was written.

Reviewed on December 28, 2014.

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