War’s sidekicks and allies

In his new book, The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History, Ned Blackhawk argues that

”the most traumatic development in American history [is] the loss of indigenous life due to European diseases. Epidemics tore apart numerous communities and set in motion large-scale migrations and transformations. North America’s total population nearly halved from 1492 to 1776: from approximately 7 or 8 million to 4 million.”Read Rich’s Post →


My recent scrape with death—for those who hadn’t heard, I rolled my car in the Wallowa River canyon on Sunday on the way back from a fine Portland Thanksgiving—and the crazy recess in the war in Israel/Gaza have me thinking about fortune and history, about being in a certain place in a specific time, about the people and events that create our life stories. About my heroes.

My first heroes were baseball players. I learned to read reading sports pages, and learned math figuring batting averages. In 1952 I knew the starting lineups of most major league teams. I was a NY Giants fan in the National League, because their catcher, Wes Westrum, was from a little Minnesota town not far from mine. Westrum wasn’t a big baseball name like Willy Mays or Micky Mantle who played against him, but Clearbrook, Minnesota was on the same map as my town. I could try to follow his path, be like him.

When I had trouble hitting the curve ball and learned that I’d never be a fast runner or have a slingshot arm, I settled for more modest heroes—role models really: teachers and coaches I liked. I could do that: teach math and coach baseball.

The dreams changed in college. Like most who were alive on November 23 in 1963, I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard the news of Kennedy’s assassination. And I remember two UC Riverside students dropping out of college and joining the Peace Corps right then. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” sent them on their way.

I had gone from thinking high school teacher/coach to college professor, but Kennedy and his words started working their way into my life. My best high school friend registered Black voters in Mississippi in what they called “Freedom Summer”; and a college roommate got me following Martin Luther King. A Vietnam “Teach-in” on the Northwestern campus was the final push—done with grad school and off to the Peace Corps. My heroes now were Kennedy and King. I picked up Gandhi too.

Those old heroes are gone. War heroes are the fashion now. Heroes and villains, but the players we follow in the news accounts and even in the games that gamers play: Zelinski, Putin, and Netanyahu, who will not rest until every Hamas militant is gone—I think that means killed.

The cries for peace seem desperate, the UN officials and journalists counting their dead, the pictures of torture victims and bombed hospitals and apartments. The ongoing attacks and reprisals, kidnapped children and ruined lives in Ukraine. The cries can’t compete with the war in Ukraine and the Israeli military and Hamas, who are at it again after that brief and crazy pause. In six or seven days a few score of hostages held by Hamas and prisoners held by Israel were released. It will take less than a week to count that many dead Palestinian children, aid workers, journalists, Israeli and Hamas soldiers.


There is a new movie out about Bayard Rustin. Rustin was the man who organized the March on Washington that we associate with Martin Luther King. Watching an interview with Coleman Domingo, who plays Rustin in the movie, sent me back to 1968 in Washington D.C. I signed on to help with the Poor People’s Campaign, and was in the capital city when King was killed and during the fires and riots that followed. We were trained by Quaker pacifists, and after the killing, listened to Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy, and others urge us to continue with the campaign. Dead heroes still have power.

The story of Bayard Rustin, and the voices of Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers give me hope.
And Rustin, Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Jesse Jackson, the whole Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the chorus of white preachers and popular musicians who buoyed King as he marched, spoke, and wrote Civil Rights into the national conversation.

Kennedy rose with the hopes of a generation born and framed by WW II, and wanting peace. The people who guided him, people like Sarge Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps, and the young Bill Moyers and Ted Sorenson, were supporters and co-authors of Kennedy’s vision for a better, and more peaceful, world. In the Peace Corps, we counted ourselves ground troops.

Today, we hear the loud voices of war and conflict. But there are other voices—Israeli, Palestinian, Russian, Ukrainian—struggling to keep people alive and drive us towards peace. It might sound corny, but there is no Willy Mays without a bunch of Wes Westrums, no Martin Luther King without Bayard Rustin.

I’m sure that most of us want peace for Israelis and Palestinians, Ukrainians and Russians. Sure also that there are plenty of strong bench players. We wait for Willy Mays, for JFK, MLK, for the Gandhi of and for our age.

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The Last Indian War—Horses and Technology

Elliot West’s “The Last Indian War” was published in 2009, so it has been around. I’d not read it, but it was handy and I needed to check a date or name, so picked it up. And read a page or two. And decided I should read it. Read it because what West does is put the Nez Perce War in context of the Westward movement and US history.

We know that the War parties—Nez Perce and pursuing armies—moved through Yellowstone National Park. Some writers even tell us that it—Yellowstone—was a first, and that tourists were encountered and captured. But West tells us that yes, Yellowstone was the first National Park, and that it “reflected three powerful forces creating and defining the West.”Read Rich’s Post →


David Remnick of the “New Yorker” calls it “intolerable.” The last few weeks in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank have stretched us for words to describe the awful goings on. We mostly agree that the initial Hamas invasion of Israel and killing of innocents was barbaric—and that Israel’s response is horrific. We can’t see what happens next. Can history tell us?Read Rich’s Post →

All is not good in Indian Country

A few days ago, I wrote that we might look to what is happening in Indian Country in the US as a model for what might happen in Gaza-Israel today. How we could retrieve old history, acknowledge past errors, and learn from those we had not listened to in the past going into the future. I praised Deb Haaland and President Biden for their efforts on behalf of tribal lands, people, and culture.

I stand by that, but there is a caveat. Read Rich’s Post →

An American Indian solution in Palestine?

When I am talking with non-Native audiences, and even when talking with Tribal friends, I sometimes say that I feel like I am body-surfing on a wave of pro-Indian sentiment in the country. I say that a big part of this is based on recognition of non-Native—read mostly white male—failures in dealing with the natural world. We haven’t been so smart about fire, fish, and water, and grope now, trying to play catch up with preemptive burns and reintroduction of beaver and bison.Read Rich’s Post →

The Three Sisters: Buffalo, Beaver, Salmon

The new Ken Burns documentary, the American Buffalo, follows the Euro-Americans across the continent as they kill buffalo, kill them mostly for profit—meat for the railroad workers; tongues which fetched high prices as culinary delicacies in the East; buffalo robes and hides that became important strong leather for the Industrial Revolution; and, finally, the remnant hooves that were gathered for glue and bones that were ground up for fertilizer. They also killed buffalo for sport and to impoverish Native tribes that depended on them.Read Rich’s Post →

The Nez Perce and Condors–and Alvin

On Friday night, Angela Sodenaa, Precious Lands Coordinator for the Nez Perce Tribe, gave a stirring talk at Wallowology in Joseph, “The Nimiipuu and the qúˀnes: Condor Recovery in Hells Canyon.” She recapped condor demise and recovery across the West, and the Tribe’s work in establishing the feasibility of condor return to the Snake River and tributaries, and advocacy work on behalf of that return.Read Rich’s Post →

A Brief List of Books on Nez Perce History and Culture

I’ve put together lists of books on the Nez Perce several times over the years, but new books keep coming out, sometimes new books with “old” information not covered in previous books. Two wonderful examples in the current list are those edited by Dennis Baird, Diane Mallickan, and W.R. Swagerty, Encounters with the People, and the Nez Perce Nation Divided. Both deal with original written and oral accounts of the people in crucial years leading up to the 1863 “Liar’s Treaty.”

I won’t pretend to be exhaustive, to do a serious and complete bibliography of books on the Nez Perce. We have a dozen more on our library shelves and/or in the sales shop downstairs! Maybe someday.Read Rich’s Post →

Edward S. Curtiss at Josephy!

The Josephy Library has been gifted an amazing set of books, Edward S. Curtiss’ THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN: THE COMPLETE REFERENCE EDITION.

This is a reprint of the original work done over 30 years at the beginning of the 20th century by the famous photographer. The publisher, CHRISTOPHER CARDOZO FINE ART, says it is “An affordable re-creation of Edward Curtis’ original masterpiece, the Complete Reference Edition is finished with a hardcover and printed on archival, acid-free Finch Opaque paper.”Read Rich’s Post →

“Conversations with the Sioux”

One of the pleasures of working in this Josephy Library is coming across material that is relevant today, and that might have been hidden from view for years or decades. So, on and off since Alvin Josephy’s death—almost 20 years ago!—I have poked at a story he told me about a project he had undertaken that did not result in a book.

Read Rich’s Post →

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

I and my peers grew up with Columbus Day, not a big holiday, unless you lived in an Italian neighborhood, but a middle of the run holiday that meant bank closures and a day off from school. There was little thinking about it—beyond hackneyed stereotypes of Columbus landing in the
“new world,” and thus “discovering” America.Read Rich’s Post →

Anti-Catholicism and American History

I’m not a Catholic, and not an anti-Catholic. And I won’t whitewash the many heinous crimes of boarding schools and deviant priests. But, given that, I see a strong bent of anti-Catholicism in our history. The result of a strong current of Anglo-American Protestant triumphalism.Read Rich’s Post →

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.Read Rich’s Post →

Community Forest on the East Moraine

On Saturday, I made the hike up the west-side trail on the East Moraine of Wallowa Lake. This is a piece of land that the Wallowa Land Trust has worked very hard over many years to keep away from developers. Slowly—over the years, and with the support of the County Commissioners, the Oregon State Park, and Wallowa Resources, Land Trust director Kathleen Ackley and her staff have pulled together easements and ownership to get this marvelous piece of geological, geographical, and tribal heritage land into a “community partnership” of owners and minders.

It’s called the “East Moraine Community Forest,” and the development of its management plan, shepherded by the Land Trust, includes the Nez Perce Tribe. On Saturday, Nakia Williamson, Cultural Resources Program Director for the Tribe, accompanied about 20 of us on the moraine hike. Read Rich’s Post →

Nez Perce Teaching Boxes

A few years ago I tried to put a batch of books, photos, and maps into a package for local school teachers. It was an effort to get some information on Nez Perce history and culture into the curriculum, and into the minds of local students.

A few teachers used what I began to call “teaching boxes,” but the materials were all over the grade levels, a bit academic, and clunky. As it turns out, in recent years Oregon—and Washington—schools are required to teach Native American history and culture, and in our state it is all directed at fourth grade teachers and students.Read Rich’s Post →

Lillian Bounds Disney–Lapwai, Idaho

I recently had a fascinating discussion with Steven Branting, Institutional Historian at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. As a result, he sent this wonderful photo of Lillian Bounds Disney as a member of the Ft. Lapwai Rural High School basketball team. He says the following:

“Date: 1916-1917 is listed in some credits, but the ball seems to say “1914, when Lillian was a sophomore. Two other girls in the photo graduated in the class of 1917 with Lillian, who is standing on the far left.”Read Rich’s Post →

more on co-management with tribes

I received a response to my blog post about Deb Haaland and cooperative management of government lands. The writer was Roger Amerman, currently “USFS Native American Outreach and Recruitment Specialist” on the Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests.

Roger is enrolled Choctaw, but married to a Nez Perce woman and living on the Nez Perce Reservation. He tells me that in his (Choctaw) culture, children are raised in the culture of the mother. Roger is dutifully raising their son a Nez Perce man.Read Rich’s Post →

The Biden-Haaland Power Duo

The Joe Biden and Deb Haaland team have done remarkable things in Indian Country. There have been the boarding schools investigation, the appointments of tribal figures to key government posts, the saving of Bears Ears, and then the Grand Canyon National Monument this week!

And–as we live tight against ancient Nez Perce lands, many managed by the US Forest Service, I thought I would reach back and remind you of this effort at joint management. Maybe it will come our way someday soon!Read Rich’s Post →