Northern Paiutes of the Malheur

We recently had the pleasure of having David Wilson at the Josephy Center to talk about his new book. Wilson is not a historian, not a writer of books–until this one. He was, in a long law career, a writer of law briefs. He told us that he had set out to write a book in retirement. After scribbling about 100 pages on the John Day River, he thought what he had written was all pretty boring. So he threw it away, and reading about the Malheur, the Paiutes, and Chief Egan, his lawyerly self told him that history had it all wrong! And he set out to set it right.

The book has had good regional press, but how often does one of the historical texts that the University of Nebraska specializes in get a review in the New Yorker Magazine!

“Northern Paiutes of the Malheur, by David H. Wilson, Jr. (Nebraska). In 1879, the Northern Paiutes, a tribe living around the Malheur River, in Oregon, were forcibly removed from their reservation by the United States government. In this searing and painstakingly researched account, Wilson challenges the accepted story of their exile, which placed blame on their primary chief, Egan, for inciting hostilities against white settlers. Charting the Paiutes’ history—their beginnings as a tribe of “kin-cliques” without central leadership, their first encounters with settlers, and, finally, the Bannock War of 1878—Wilson argues persuasively that they were victims not only of land theft but of a misinformation campaign whose effects have lasted more than a century.”

I’m reminded again of Alvin Jospehy’s drumbeat assertion that Western History, and the true history of Indians being overwhelmed by white settler-colonists, has been kept alive by “history buffs”–like Wilson–who research and write for the love of it, and by presses like Nebraska and Oklahoma with long backlists of true stories of the West. (And isn’t this more interesting and important than the Bundys!)


  1. Hi,
    Not having a lot of time to plow through historical texts, let alone thick volumes of the fellow who wrote Thunder Over the Ochoco’s etc, Maybe you can tell me how Wilson treats the oral histories of Egan, his roots as a Cayuse and his war making against them as an adopted (kidnapped) Paiute? I’ve heard much from Sam Kash and Jesse Jones about his exploits and his subsequent capture by warriors from Umatilla Res.

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