On the way to the academy

Back in April, I got notice that the theme for the Pacific Northwest History Association’s fall meeting in Tacoma, Washington was to be “The Civil War and Civil Rights.” As it happened, I was reading Alvin J’s The Civil War in the American West at the time, and remembered a passage in the Introduction claiming that the Civil War probably saw the decimation of more Indian tribes and the takeover of more Indian lands than any comparable period in American history. The conference’s prospectus didn’t mention Indians, so I wrote them a proposal saying I wanted to talk about Alvin, the War, and Invisible Indians.

And they accepted! All was well. It was on my calendar—six months and a summer-full of activities away. As things got closer, I assumed I would reread the Civil War book and miscellaneous other Josephy and Civil War material and prepare an outline, head to Tacoma next week, and talk for 25 minutes and leave five minutes for discussion. I would see Al Josephy and John Jackson in Olympia, see Eliza Canty-Jones from the Oregon Historical Quarterly, and maybe hear Greg Nokes talk about his research on African Americans in Oregon. Meet old friends of Alvin’s and many real historians.

And then a couple of weeks ago I got notice that they wanted a “paper” ahead of time! A real paper. I quickly calculated that a 25 minute paper would be about 3500 words, and I have not written a 3500 word paper in a very long time!  When I told my brother, who teaches at nearby Washington State, what I had to do, he howled. “Welcome to my world,” he chuckled.

Still and all, I had thought about this back in April and had an outline in mind. It couldn’t be too difficult.

Until I reread the Josephy book and tried to get around it all: Indians, Civil War, Civil Rights. Settlers, armies, generals (there were a lot of them in that war!), Butterfield Road, Oregon Trail, Pony Express, tribes, treaties, mountain men, Mexico, Texas—the Republic of, Sam Houston, the Gadsden Purchase, Northwest Territory, Indian Territory, Lincoln, massacres—Sand Creek and Bear River and Indians massacring Whites in Minnesota, Minnesota—my home state. And pretty soon I was back at Columbus and Squanto, Jacque Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin and trying to get some handle on the history of White and Indian relations—Alvin’s life work and here I am trying to distill it all into an argument about Indians and the Civil War!

Deep breaths. 2000 languages Alvin says in The Indian Heritage of America. 500 Nations in North America, he wrote. I checked the last census—546 recognized tribes, in 2010! Each one of these tribes has a history and culture of its own. And the White guys were not–are not–of one mind. Of course it’s complicated!


October 19, Washington State Historical Museum, 3:45 p.m. Come watch me tremble.





1 Comment

  1. Pramila's attending, and I hope to, work permitting. How about dinner, and do you want a place to lay down your bedroll for the weekend? Hot diggity this will be fun, trembling included!

Comments are closed.