JFK on Indians

In 1961, Alvin Josephy moved from Time Magazine to American Heritage, where The American Heritage Book of Indians was his first major assignment. The text was written by William Brandon, but Alvin oversaw designers and assistant editors who fact checked and copy read, and I am sure it was Alvin who scoured the country’s libraries and museums for images to accompany the text. The early reviews, neatly summarized by American Heritage staff members and stuffed behind the cover of Alvin’s own copy of the book, which sits in our library, extol the effort, and comment on the breadth and depth of text and illustration. General readers will love it, one reviewer says, but even scholars will find something new.

I think I’d glanced at the one page introduction by President John F. Kennedy at some point, but recently found myself reading it again—and it struck me that Kennedy’s message was or became Alvin’s message throughout his long career as writer, Read The Article

Canoe notes #2

My childhood recollections of New World history move quickly from Columbus and the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria to Squanto and the Puritans on the other side of the continent. In neither case did we get much real history, but rather sloganeering echoes passed from teacher to student for decades, now centuries. And we got holidays—Columbus Day and Thanksgiving—that were and probably still are occasion for grade school pageantry.

But Allen Pinkham, Jr., our Nez Perce canoe carver, sends me back to Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., my mentor and the “Great Reminder.” Alvin reminds us that Indians were here for millennia before Columbus and the Puritans, that they had fashioned high civilizations as well as many simple but effective ways of living on their lands, that there had been catastrophes even before the Europeans came with the great upset, but that Native peoples and the land have been resilient. (I mistakenly typed “had” in place of “have” in that sentence; Read The Article

JFK on Indians



Alvin Josephy knew the people who had taken over American Heritage Magazinein 1954 and turned it into a profitable hard cover edition of well written and researched articles on American history. He wrote several articles for them, including the piece on “Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War,” and in 1960 was convinced to take on the job of editing The American Heritage Book of Indians in their book division.,
The text was largely written by William Brandon. Among other things, Alvin scoured the country for images—photos of Indians and artifacts, and original drawings—to accompany the text. In A Walk Toward Oregon, he tells the story of finding original drawings by Fernandez de Oviedo, “the first-known views of Indians in large canoes and as slaves in Caribbean gold mines.” They were stowed away in the Huntington Library in California, and reproduced broadly after their American Heritage publication. (Alvin
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