Title: Attack in the Rye Grass
Author: Dave & Neta Jackson
Series: Trailblazer Books
Major Themes: Oregon, Native Americans, Marcus & Narcissa Whitman, Oregon Trail, Christian Fiction
Synopsis: Perrin Whitman traveled with his uncle Marcus Whitman to Oregon with one of the first wagon trains to cross the Rocky Mountains, and found that relations with the Indians were anything but simple.
I still remember the first time I ever heard of Narcissa Whitman. Back in the early 1980s, when I was 8 or 9 years old, our local library discarded many of their older nonfiction children’s books. My mom snatched up the biographies, and I eagerly read all of them. One was of Narcissa, and her story fascinated me. Ten or 15 years later, Dave & Neta Jackson started writing the Trailblazer Books, and I found them very interesting, too. One, Attack in the Rye Grass, is about Marcus and Narcissa Whitman.
Perrin Whitman was very excited when his uncle Marcus returned from the Oregon Territory—and even more excited when his uncle asked him to travel west with him. Marcus wanted help teaching the Indians about the Bible, how to live like “civilized” people, and keep the Oregon Territory for the United States. What an adventure it would be, Perrin was sure!
Shikam was searching for her father’s strayed horses when she found some fellow Indians who were quite sick. She was horrified—and they were angry—when they learned that Mr. Gray, who lived on the mission at Waiilatpu, had poisoned them! Though Narcissa Whitman banished Mr. Gray, the damage was done. The Indians now believed Joe Lewis, a renegade, when he told them that the white people would drive them all out of their lands.
When Marcus and Perrin arrived back at Waiilatpu, the doctor spent a lot of time trading with the settlers who had come with him, and caring for their sick. Why didn’t he take the time to help the sick Indians? Then, when Perrin and Shikam went on a trading trip to California, one of the other Indian boys was killed by a white man. The Indians couldn’t understand why justice wasn’t done. Tensions were building up. Could Perrin get Marcus to listen to his concerns before it was too late?
Attack in the Rye Grass shows why the Indians were unhappy enough with the Whitmans to massacre the mission. I appreciated seeing Perrin learning to see things from multiple points of view. I also appreciated that most of the violence was off-screen! This could have been an icky story, but it was not. No matter what you believe about the Whitmans, and the westward expansion of the United States, the story of the Whitmans is a part of American history, and as such is an important story to know.
WARNING: A man is shot in Chapter 8.
Listening Level—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, Family Friendly
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12