• Murder at the Mission

  • A Frontier Killing, Its Legacy of Lies, and the Taking of the American West
  • By: Blaine Harden
  • Narrated by: Mark Bramhall
  • Length: 12 hrs and 39 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (27 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

“Terrific.” (Timothy Egan, The New York Times)

“A riveting investigation of both American myth-making and the real history that lies beneath.” (Claudio Saunt, author of Unworthy Republic)

From the New York Times best-selling author of Escape From Camp 14, a “terrifically readable” (Los Angeles Times) account of one of the most persistent “alternative facts” in American history: the story of a missionary, a tribe, a massacre, and a myth that shaped the American West

In 1836, two missionaries and their wives were among the first Americans to cross the Rockies by covered wagon on what would become the Oregon Trail. Dr. Marcus Whitman and Reverend Henry Spalding were headed to present-day Washington state and Idaho, where they aimed to convert members of the Cayuse and Nez Perce tribes. Both would fail spectacularly as missionaries. But Spalding would succeed as a propagandist, inventing a story that recast his friend as a hero, and helped to fuel the massive westward migration that would eventually lead to the devastation of those they had purportedly set out to save.

As Spalding told it, after uncovering a British and Catholic plot to steal the Oregon Territory from the United States, Whitman undertook a heroic solo ride across the country to alert the President. In fact, he had traveled to Washington to save his own job. Soon after his return, Whitman, his wife, and eleven others were massacred by a group of Cayuse. Though they had ample reason - Whitman supported the explosion of white migration that was encroaching on their territory, and seemed to blame for a deadly measles outbreak - the Cayuse were portrayed as murderous savages. Five were executed. 

This fascinating, impeccably researched narrative traces the ripple effect of these events across the century that followed. While the Cayuse eventually lost the vast majority of their territory, thanks to the efforts of Spalding and others who turned the story to their own purposes, Whitman was celebrated well into the middle of the 20th century for having "saved Oregon." Accounts of his heroic exploits appeared in congressional documents, The New York Times, and Life magazine, and became a central founding myth of the Pacific Northwest.

Exposing the hucksterism and self-interest at the root of American myth-making, Murder at the Mission reminds us of the cost of American expansion, and of the problems that can arise when history is told only by the victors.

©2021 Blaine Harden (P)2021 Penguin Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“[A] fascinating, well-written exposé...Harden skillfully brings to life the collision of myth and reality. He has managed to write a fittingly timely book that fits well into the post-Donald Trump era of false narratives, conspiracy theories, and cries of fake news.” (New York Journal of Books)

“A richly detailed and expertly researched account of how a concocted story...became a part of American legend.... Harden’s deeply researched book, often from the letters and words of the principle figures themselves to rebuke lies told on their behalf, is not history revised. Murder at the Mission is history revealed.” (Spokesman Review)

“A well-written, fast-paced account...[that] succeeds in bringing often-forgotten history front and center.... Highly recommended.” (Library Journal, starred review) 

What listeners say about Murder at the Mission

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  • Overall
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Good history; wanted more indigenous perspective.

Narrator needs to learn how to properly pronounce names and locations. Could have skipped the entire middle section about how the lies were perpetuated (so many examples in American history) and spent more time focusing on the indigenous perspective during these times.

1 person found this helpful

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Regretfully problematic

Bramhall overacts this so forcefully, harden could not be trying any harder to sway. He’s falsely claimed to have forced the feds to change how they tell this story.

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Ore-gone?

I loved the book and very much enjoyed the presentation on Audible. What I couldn’t handle was the pronunciation of the state of Oregon. The narrator consistently said Ore-Gone v Ore-Gun. It was painful to hear and negatively impacted the credibility of the story shared.

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Narrator can’t pronounce Oregon

As a lifelong Oregonian the fact that the reader can’t pronounce Oregon is killing me.

The book is fantastic though.

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Excellent read well done

Enjoy reading more accurate account of what we call bad medicine exorcism! Well researched and written.

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The Truth. Finally.

This book should be in every school in America and even beyond. The truth needs to be spread far and wide.