Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Memory Weaver by Jane Kirkpatrick

Kirkpatrick is a master at creating a good fictional account of a historical event. In this case it is the Whitman massacre, sometimes called the Walla Walla massacre, of 1847.

Our story centers on Eliza Spalding, daughter of Rev. Henry Spalding and Eliza Hart Spalding. They had accompanied Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife in 1836 when they returned to the area deemed best for missionary work, near the present day city of Walla Walla, Washington. The Whitmans settled near the Walla Walla River while the Spaldings went a little farther east, at Lapwai (Idaho) ministering to the Nez Perce.

On November 29, 1847, the Whitmans and eleven others were killed. Around fifty women and children were captured and held for ransom. Details might be a bit unclear but it seems the Cayuse were upset at the measles outbreak that Whitman could not cure. There might have also been some Catholic missionary influence. Spalding, an anti-Catholic, might have believed the priests incited the Cayuse.

Young Eliza was staying at Waiilatpu when the massacre occurred, attending a school for white children. She witnessed the horror of the massacre and was one of the scores taken hostage. She was forced to act as an interpreter as she was the only one who could speak the Indian language. She was ten years old. The British paid a ransom after thirty-nine days and the hostages were rescued. Eliza was returned to her parents.

The novel begins when Eliza is a teen. Her father, fearing an attack at their location, had moved his family southwest to near Brownsville, Oregon. Her mother died in 1851 and Eliza, being the oldest at thirteen years old, cares for her father and her siblings. She still has difficulty with nightmare like episodes, remembering the massacre. She meets Andrew Warren, a cattleman a few years older than she. There is an attraction between the two but Eliza's father is opposed to a marriage until Eliza turns seventeen.

The novel progresses with Eliza's life. The reality of the massacre is revealed to us a little at a time as Eliza hesitantly mentions it occasionally. Interspersed here and there are excerpts from her mother's diary.

I found the way the actual historical events of the massacre were revealed in the novel was a bit confusing. Eliza misremembers some of what happened, which is entirely understandable. Part of Kirkpatrick's reason for writing the book the way she did, I think, is to help us see how traumatic events are remembered and how they affect one's present life. I appreciate that but found the process somewhat confusing. I would suggest the reader look over a historical account of the massacre to have it already in mind when reading this novel.

I am always amazed at the number of actual historical events Kirkpatrick is able to weave into her story. It brings to life a very troubled time in the Pacific Northwest. I recommend it to those who enjoy fiction based on historical fact.

Mr rating: 4/5 stars.

Jane Kirkpatrick is the best-selling author of over twenty-seven books. She and her husband live in Central Oregon. You can find out more at

Revell, 352 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

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