Anne Richardson and General Howard

My friend Anne Richardson passed away a few years ago. Her husband, Dennis Nyback, brought a box of her books and notebooks to the Josephy Library about a year ago, and then he passed away.

I didn’t write a eulogy for Anne at the time of her passing, although I have told bits of her fascinating life story to a few people—the little bits that I know. Now I feel remiss at not having written something sooner, maybe written something before her passing, because of all the people I know, Anne Richardson knew more about General O.O. Howard than anyone else. Hers might have been a valuable voice to anyone trying to untangle the story of Howard and his role in the Nez Perce War.

Maybe it still can be heard—as we have just turned up the many folders of Howard material that was part of Dennis’s gift to the Josephy Library. There are typed notes and hand-written notes, notes clipped in batches and notes filling entire yellow and white pads. All focused on O.O. Howard. Anne once told me she’d read his diaries, and all of the post-Civil War stuff he wrote to finance his retirement. (That, I learned from Anne, was often the way retired generals and statesmen financed the rest of their lives.)

Let me tell you a little bit about Anne, which might make you more curious about what she knew about General Howard.

Anne grew up in Portland, where her dad was a Methodist minister. Their close neighbors were the Hockett family, which had strong ties to Wallowa County. Anne and her childhood Hockett friend spent some summers together in the Wallowa.

I miss pieces of the story here, but Anne dropped out of high school and worked as a waitress in Portland until someone suggested she take the GED test. Which led to a college scholarship at a big-time Eastern college. She got married, had a child, and did not complete her B.A. degree, but a few years later talked her way into the graduate program in film at Columbia University. And there she did get a degree, a Master of Fine Arts in Film. So, no high school or undergraduate college diploma, but an MFA.

Thinking back to her childhood in the Wallowa, Anne decided that she would make a movie about Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce. After some amount of time and research, she decided that the story was not hers to tell, that it should be left to a Native filmmaker. And she began the extensive research on Howard. She, a white woman filmmaker, could tell his story.

Back in Fishtrap days, Anne spent a couple of weeks in Wallowa County with local school teachers and students, giving them her take on the basics of filmmaking. But by then she had retreated from making a film on Howard. She had in mind a museum display, and as a trial she gave us an evening of Howard in the M and M building that was then a kind of performance space. She had a photo of the one-armed Civil War general that she’d found in the Oddfellows Hall, and she made a big canvas map on the floor that showed his travels. Anne was convinced that Howard was not a racist, but a religious zealot, who could not understand the Nez Perce who did not accept his Christianity. The African-American “freedmen” he’d been in charge of before building Howard University landed him in trouble—and his friend, General Sherman, sent him West—had at least been Christian.

Enough said. Anne knew things, and because her late husband had the kindness to pass her notes on to us, we have written records of some of her knowing. We invite anyone with an interest in the General who, almost inadvertently, got drawn into the Nez Perce affair, to spend time with the Anne Richardson materials at the Josephy Library.

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  1. Thank you, Rich, for making this public invitation to view Ms. Richardson’s materials. Too often such research gets cloistered away only to be seen by the eyes of Phd students.

  2. You might recall, Rich, that Anne gave a presentation several years ago and I portrayed General Howard. It was fascinating to learn more about this mn who embodied what we would today call contradictions, but he seemed to make sense of them. I was impressed that he clearly stated that the 1877 Treaty was illegal, and saddened that he still answered the government’s and white settlers’ call to push the Niimipuu people out. Anne’s research deserves wider publication and consideration, especially for the light it shines on the efforts by Christian groups who might be led by noble ideals, but neglect to fully engage and consult with the people they want to “help.”

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