That’s the year of the first white settlers—and the year that tiwi ‘ teqis (Chief Old Joseph) passed away. A few years before that, tiwi’teqis had seen the surveyors’ monuments on the Oregon-Washington line, and had put up his own monuments to show white settlers a demarcation line. “Joseph’s Deadline,” it was called. His son, Young Joseph, had warned A.C. Smith not to build his toll bridge across the Minam River—a bridge that would allow settlers an easier approach to the Wallowa Country as it crossed his father’s deadline.
Category: Chief Joseph
Deb Haaland and Mount Howard
With all of the “stuff” going on in the world—war in Ukraine, famine in Somalia, floods, heat waves, climate change and inflation everywhere—it’s easy to overlook the work at the US Department of the Interior. And to overlook its director, Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland.Read Rich’s Post →
October 5; On this day…
October 5, 1877 is the day on which the wal’wá·ma band of the Nez Perce and members of other non-treaty bands lost their freedom. They’d intended to go quietly from the Wallowa to the reduced Idaho reservation, leaving and losing their homeland but continuing to live in nearby country among relatives from other bands. They crossed the Snake River into Idaho in spring runoff, and there the grief-stricken actions of some young Nez Perce in killing Idaho settlers—settlers known for their mistreatment of Indians—set off a fighting retreat of more than 1200 miles. It ended on this day 144 yeasr ago at the Bears Paw mountains in Montana, just 40 miles short of safety in Canada.Read Rich’s Post →
The recent Nez Perce reacquisition of 148 acres near the town of Joseph was a big event. Scores of walkers and riders with their horses gathered at the school on the hill on one side of Joseph, and made the journey through town and onto the airport road to the place just west of the city they now call Am’sáaxpa, or “place of boulders.” Drummers and singers in a “long tent”—a longhouse—prayed, sang, and spoke to scores of tribal people and local supporters, and reporters.Read Rich’s Post →
Fourth of July-Nespelem
I’ve written before about how Indians, and especially the Nez Perce exiles on the Colville Reservation, used the holiday as a day to bring out drums, regalia, and songs that had been suppressed in the 1880s rush to assimilation. In an exhibit two years ago on “Nez Perce Music,” we used images from a 1903 Fourth of July Celebration on the Coville Reservation in Washington. There were photos of drummers and dancers, but when I asked elder Albert Andrews Redstar to comment on the event, he focused on the photo of a horse procession. It seems to me that this photo and his words are an appropriate way to remember that “Independence Day” does not celebrate or remember “independence” for all of us.Read Rich’s Post →
Living on Stolen Ground
Above the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Ground is Bette Lynch Husted’s memoir of growing up on a dirt-poor, white, family farm in Nez Perce Indian country in Idaho. Their meagre plot had once—and long—been Indian country. Nez Perce Reservation lands were reduced by 90 percent from those promised in an 1855 Treaty in an 1863 Treaty. The Allotment Act, which sought to put individual Indians on Individual parcels of land, declared “surplus lands” open to white homesteaders. Whites gobbled up 90 million more acres of Indian land, That, as I recall, was the origin of the Lynch farm.
The “Roaming Nez Perce” on a level playing field
Our national founding documents talk about all men being created “equal,” and many see the history of the country as a gradual expansion of “all men” to include black men—14th Amendment, 1868; women—19th Amendment, 1920; and, in 1924, when they were finally given citizenship in the country that had swallowed up their native lands, Indians.
Nez Perce Treaties–a puzzle solved?
I have been fascinated by President Grant’s proposed “Reservation for the Roaming Nez Perce Indians of the Wallowa Valley” since I saw the map of it in Grace Bartlett’s Wallowa Country: 1867-1877 years ago. I thought that if those Nez Perce had just had the foresight to put up picket fences and stop “roaming,” they might not have lost the Wallowa. More recently, I have seriously wondered what went wrong with it.Read Rich’s Post →
Alvin Josephy passed away almost two decades ago, but time and again, during this coronavirus/Black Lives crisis, I have heard him shout in my ear that when our history books don’t lie about Indians, they ignore them.
When the NYT sends a reporter to the Navajo Nation to document the terrible impact of Covid-19 on the people, the world reads and sighs—and then the story goes to the back pages or to no page at all. When George Floyd is killed by police in Minneapolis, and Indigenous singers and jingle dancers from many tribes go to the site of the killing to pay homage and honor the man, a video from Indian participants sneaks out on Facebook. Indians and their tribute are barely visible in the national press.
When people come into the Josephy Center where I work and get the first pages of the Nez Perce story—the one about Wallowa lands left to the Joseph Band of the Nez Perce by solemn US Treaty in 1855, and then snatched away from them in an 1863 treaty after the discovery of gold—they shake their heads, maybe pick up a book about the Nez Perce, and go their ways. This story of past injustice gets told and retold more often than most Indian stories, but the fact that Nez Perce and other tribal people are still here is not part of the current American story.
Sometimes I feel like I am paddling upstream—and then I think of the years that Alvin labored to tell the Indian side of history, and think it’s a wonder that he kept at it so long and so hard.
When Alvin found the Nez Perce story in 1951, it captured his mind and soul. But he was working at Time Magazine, where publisher Henry Luce thought modern Indians “phonies” who should just get on with being Americans. Time editors followed Luce’s lead, and Alvin worked on his first two Indian books, Patriot Chiefs and The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, without support or encouragement from Time.
When he published Patriot Chiefs, in 1961, Indians—many of whom had fought for the United States in WW II, thanked him for calling them patriots. But a historian at the Western History Conference asked him why the hell he was writing about Indians; “no one cares about Indians.”
After Patriot Chiefs, Alvin moved from Time to American Heritage, and there he hired and mentored historian David McCullough. They remained friends—McCullough emceed Alvin’s 80th birthday party in Jackson Hole in 1995. Unfortunately, I didn’t read McCullough’s award winning biography of John Adams until after Alvin died, so did not get a chance to ask him why he thought McCullough failed to address the issue of Indians in the first days of the Republic in his book. I wonder now if Alvin felt a sting with McCullough’s dismissal of Indians, who had become his own focus in writing and advocacy.
In 1969, Josephy’s Indian Heritage of America was nominated for an American Book Award. The New York Times said that it contained more information on Indians in one volume than most small American libraries had on their shelves. But its lack of impact on the standard historical narrative in American textbooks must have bothered Alvin. In 1973, in an article in Learning Magazine titled “The Forked Tongue in U. S. History Books,” he documented the lies and omissions regarding Indians in California textbooks of the day.
There are other upstream stories, but I’ll end this rant with Alvin’s 1992 book, America in 1492: the World of the Indian Peoples before the Arrival of Columbus. In the Introduction, he reminds us that 500 years earlier Columbus had landed in the Bahamas among a people he misnamed “Indians,” and a tribe he misnamed “Caribs,” or “cannibals.” Alvin wrote that “no adverse impact visited on the Indians by the 1492 voyage… was more profound in its consequences than Columbus’s introduction of Western European ethnocentricity to the Indians’ worlds.” The newcomers asserted the superiority of their “religious, political and social universe” over those of many “different indigenous peoples from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego…” The ethnocentricity that began with Columbus continued through Alvin’s day—and continues to the present day.
The final Josephy words that ring in my ears are from visits to bookstores as we traveled together to speeches and book signings for his 2001 memoir, A Walk Toward Oregon. He’d look for his books, and finding them with the “butterflies… dinosaurs, and dodo birds,” he’d mutter that “Indians don’t have history or biography, you know.” They have anthropology, and are consigned to “museums of natural history, not human history.” Next to the seashells and butterflies on bookstore shelves.
His was a hard but glorious fifty-year paddle.
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Like many Natives, Doug Hyde was born off-reservation, is of mixed tribal descent, and is a veteran of the Vietnam War. Unlike most, but still a significant number of talented Native artists, Doug was sent from his reservation to the Indian Art School at Santa Fe as a young man. It was there, between growing up on the Nez Perce Reservation at Lapwai, Idaho and serving in Vietnam, that his training as an artist began, and there that he later returned to teach.
Doug is in his 70s now, a mature artist with a large body of work in galleries, museums, and on reservations across the country. But he has no intention of leaving the work and world of a Native artist.
|Nez Perce Tribal exec Ferris Paisano III and artist Doug Hyde|
A recent sculpture project brought Doug and his work, ‘etweyé·wise—“The Return,” to the Josephy Center this June. The project began with a grant to the Oregon Community Foundation. We said that Joseph’s bronze streetscape boasted 11 sculptures, four of them depicting Indians; none was the work of an Indian artist. We got the grant, and Doug got the job. And “Return” was his idea, a telling in stone and bronze of Nez Perce removal in 1877 and their gradual and growing presence in the Wallowa Homeland today.
On June 22 there were powwow drums from
|walwa’ma band from Nespelem sang old songs from Wallowas|
Lapwai and Umatilla, and a bell and songs of the walwa’ma band—Joseph’s band—from Nespelem, Washington. There was salmon and there was friendship, a coming together of Tribal people—who were often related but now living far apart—and of local people in this new Wallowa Country where, we hope, we
shall all be alike – brothers of one father and one mother, with one sky above us and one country around us, and one government for all. Then the Great Spirit Chief who rules above will smile upon this land, and send rain to wash out the bloody spots made by brothers’ hands from the face of the earth.
Those are words of Chief Joseph, of course, and in the ceremony dedicating Doug Hyde’s sculpture and in talking with him afterwards they came back to me. Doug could easily retire and be satisfied with a fine and large body of work, but he has no intention of doing that. Art is what he does; artist is what he is. And there is work to do. More healing to do in Indian country; more Indian stories to tell to non-Indians and to the young Indians who are stepping into elders’ shoes.
|Nez Pece woman returns|
There is something in the stone and bronze, and in the rounded forms that characterize Hyde’s sculpture, that says healing. My mentor, Alvin Josephy, said that the Anglo-colonists who came here conquered by dividing, tribe from tribe across the continent. And then the dividing and cutting continued—cutting hair, cutting language and culture, dividing children from parents with boarding schools, tribes from roots with missionary work.
Doug’s full-figured Nez Perce woman, dressed traditionally, walks back confidently to the granite block of Wallowa mountains where the empty space shows her long ago removal. She’s a woman, as Tamastslikt director Bobbie Conner pointed out, another powerful symbol of healing and wellness in a public sculpture world long dominated by men on horses with tools of war.
Doug lost words when describing a work he has in mind, something round and coming together—and his arms waved and body turned—that would show healing of old Tribal divisions—something I will see one day articulated in stone or bronze.
Qe’ci’yew’yew’ –Thank you Doug Hyde. And good work to you.
‘etweyé·wise—A new sculpture at the Josephy Center
On Saturday, June 22, 2019, we dedicated a new sculpture at the Josephy Center on Main Street in Joseph, Oregon. Two years of preparation and the artisanship of Doug Hyde gave us a work he calls ‘etweyé·wise—which is an old word meaning “I return from a hard journey” in the Nez Perce language.
|Sculptor Doug Hyde and the Returning Nez Perce Woman|
The walwa’ma band of the Nez Perce was forced out of this country in 1877, leading to a war in which the Indians fended off government armies for almost 1400 miles through some of the most rugged country in the West. They were within 40 miles of Canada when the armies caught the cold and hungry people. A promised return to the West became eight years in exile in Kansas and Indian Territory—what the Nez Perce still call the “hot country.”
The Nez Perce War survivors were allowed to return to the West in 1885, but not to the Wallowa Valley. Some went to Lapwai in Idaho, others, including Joseph and his close followers, went to the Colville Reservation in Washington, where descendants remain in exile today. Other descendants are scattered on the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon, at Lapwai in Idaho, in Canada, and on reservations and towns and cities across the country.
Artist Doug Hyde is of Nez Perce, Assiniboine, and Chippewa descent. He grew up in Oregon and in Idaho and studied and eventually taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and now lives in Arizona. His “Chief Joseph” is at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and the Clearwater Casino in Idaho. Doug has worked and is working with many tribes to tell tribal stories in art.
On the dedication day we had big drums and tribal members from Lapwai and Umatilla, and others from the Colville Reservation in Washington. They–the walwa’ma band descendants, sang and prayed to open the dedication ceremony, the big drums played, there were speeches and tears–a local women, a Chief Joseph Days rodeo queen from 1952, came with a small object wrapped in cloth which she wanted to return to tribal members. It was a mortar found somewhere along the Snake River years ago. She thought it rightfully belonged to the Nez Perce people. And then, as is customary in Indian country, we shared a meal, including salmon of course.
As we ate salmon and watermelon and enjoyed each other’s company, people–native and non-native–went to stand by the bronze Nez Perce woman and have their pictures taken, or stood back from the granite slab where her cutout welcomes her home to get their own image of ‘etweyé·wise, this return from a hard journey.
Please, if you are in the territory this summer, come by to see us–and to look at the Nez Perce woman as she steps back into her ancestral home.
# # #
Fourth of July
I turn over this blogpost to Nez Perce elder and friend Albert Andrews Redstar. Albert is a descendent of the walwama band of Nez Perce who were not allowed to return to their Wallowa Homeland, and have been in exile on the Colville Reservation since their 1885 return from the “hot country” –Oklahoma Indian Territory. We now know that Joseph was not a war chief, but a brilliant and eloquent leader of his people. Here we learn how he turned the Fourth of July celebration in 1903 to Nez Perce purposes.
|Nez. Perce Memorial procession, 1903, Nespelem, WA, Photo Edward Latham, courtesy, Museum of the Rockies|
It is Fourth of July. This picture was taken near the town of Nespelem, on the Colville Indian Reservation in North Central Washington State. You are looking at a Nez Perce encampment just outside the city limits of Nespelem. In this picture you can make out a procession of riders making their way around the inside of the ring of teepees. The mounted riders, all in their finest, are making a solemn procession relieving, and releasing, themselves of the pain of losses they’ve all suffered over the years since the Nez Perce War began in 1877.
The procession also signals an end to a long, long journey and the loss of home and lives of loved ones somewhere out there on a trail begun when they were forced from their homeland in the Wallowa Valley.
For they are the people of the Joseph Band of Nez Perce. Their Homeland in the “Land of the Winding Waters” of Northeast Oregon, a land to which they shall never return, is now in a growing distant past only existing in memory and dreams. Many, still, are longing for a return “home”… Many are feeling this is but a temporary stop before being allowed to return to Wallowa once again. That is a move that will never come.
Amidst the group of riders, towards the front, are speakers calling out the why of this gathering and calling out some of the many names of those now gone or deceased, never to be seen or visited with again. The cantering pace allows the speakers’ voices to carry well and the camper’s responses can be heard as the keening begins while the procession passes by them. Grieving has begun.
In “normal times” this procession could occur anytime. But large gatherings of Native peoples still trigger suspicion and fear by white people and “peaceful Indians” of another uprising, during this time. Chief Joseph had brought his headmen together to take care of themselves, to help the people of the Band come to terms with what they had just experienced. With the Nation’s celebration of its birth coming, it would be a time to carry this out. In this way, it would lessen the chance that the military would be called in bearing the arms and weaponry of war. The Soyapos may think the Band is joining in on this “birthday” celebration.
Chief Joseph made it clear that this was a time for a collective mourning. They needed to grieve their losses of friends, of relatives, of family…of all lost since 1877. They must carry out this mourning service to grieve and “let go” of all those now gone from their midst. They must let go and move on together, having survived the conflict inflicted under Manifest Destiny.
The mourning begun, the second round proceeded at a faster pace. As the third round began, the horses were prompted into a faster-paced gallop. On this round, rejoicing began.
Pasapalloynin!!! “to make them rejoice, to make them happy! “Look around you!” they shouted. “See and remember all whom you see here today and rejoice that we are all together, and that we are here! Today, we live to carry on, for all that are here with us, for all our children! Today we rejoice! Today!”
Many my age have witnessed such a procession as this. It had always preceded other activities at the start of the Fourth of July Celebration, here in Nespelem. Its significance seems to fade with each generation, but some of us still remember. We remember how names were called out of those lost in the past year, just as they had done in that first gathering for those lost in the 1877 War. We’d felt that grieving loss, just as our ancestry herein depicted by this picture had, during that first procession. Some of us still know why it was done before it became the “Horse Parade” it is called today. We are descendants of the Joseph Band of Nez Perce! We still carry on the traditions and customs in the old ways. We are still able to speak in that uncolonized language of our Longhouses. Yes! We are still here!
Albert Andrews Redstar
Indian photos in the exhibit
|Joseph’s Last Visit, 1900. Photo by Frank Reavis|
There were 50 photos in the recent Josephy Center exhibit of pre-WW II images from the Wallowa Country. Seven of the images feature Indians, and, it occurs to me, capture a great deal of white misunderstandings of and ambivalence toward Indians over the last 500 years. The photos all date from about 1895-1930, less than one generation in that long history that unravels with amazing consistency over more than a dozen.
The most salient feature of our photos is that they were all taken after 1877, after the Wallowa Band Nez Perce were removed from this land, chased across Idaho, Yellowstone, and into Montana; lied to about return; sent to Leavenworth and the “hot country”; and returned to the Northwest—but not to the Wallowa—in 1885. Many descendants of the band remain in exile on the Colville Reservation in north central Washington to this day.
So what do the photos tell us?
First, that Indians continued to come into the Wallowa after the War and removal of the Wallowa Band. Who were they? It’s complicated, as our Euro-American history books, when they tell Indian stories at all, speak in terms of leaders and whole tribes, rather than the complex networks of families, bands, and relationships across geography and time. When they touch on Indians at all, they do so by “chiefs”—Pontiac, Tecumseh, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Joseph. How many of us can attach tribes, bands, and geography to them?
The relationships between and among Plateau Indian tribes and bands were always fluid. The Nez Perce, and their Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Cayuse cousins traveled from Celilo in the west to the buffalo country in the east, north and south from the Spokan to the Paiute. Sometimes they stayed for months—or maybe years. Sometimes they settled elsewhere; they intermarried. I’m told that some Nez Perce had fishing places on the Willamette River through such marriages.
Other bands of Nez Perce visited the Wallowa country before the War, and traveled from Lapwai and surrounding areas into the Wallowa to hunt, fish, and gather, and eventually to work for wages in the harvests after 1877. And the “usual and accustomed places” (off-reservation lands still available to the tribes) for those activities outlined in the 1855 treaties were still valid in the 1863 “liars’ treaty.” Although it is unlikely that these Indians could read the treaties, many family groups would have kept to seasonal travels as they had done for generations, sometimes dealing with white settlers along the way.
Although the core of Wallowa Band—those who had followed Ollokot and Joseph and other chiefs through the war, were living on the Colville Reservation from 1885 forward, descendants—some who did not go to war; others who had made it to Canada or had just wandered on return from the hot country, settled, and married elsewhere—would have been scattered on the reservations of the inland Northwest, a scattering that continues to this day.
A photo in the exhibit called “Last Camp of the Nez Perce” at Wallowa Lake shows a dozen tipis with fence and buildings in the background. Another shows a batch of tipis at the Enterprise fairgrounds, with a few white people in nice clothes visiting an Indian camp where some of the men wore traditional “stovepipe” headdresses, and yet another of an Indian family, circa 1895, was taken in a studio, maybe in La Grande, by G. W. Mackey. He put his name and “Traveling Artist” on this beautiful family photo. Indians—Nez Perce and their cousins—used some white technology to celebrate themselves. And yet they traveled and lived in traditional ways as much as possible here, as they must have across the entire country. How else do we account for the fact of their survival as Indians?
There’s a photo of Indian women combing children’s hair, taken about 1907. Frank Reavis, a photographer who had married A.C. Smith, the old mountain man’s daughter, noticed the humanity and normalcy of an Indian family. And a photo of the 1931 graduating class at Flora has one of the five students wearing gloves obviously Indian-made. It reminds me of many stories of white settlers saving hides for Indians, who would trace their hands and feet and make custom gloves and moccasins. Sally Goebel brought in a well-worn pair of beaded gloves her grandmother’s size that would have been from this era.
In the years between the 1885 return from the Hot Country to Nespelem and 1900, the Dawes Allotment Act had taken more Indian lands across the country, and Joseph had refused the offer of an allotment in Lapwai. Laws allowing Indian agents to restrict drumming and dancing and even the wearing of regalia had blossomed. As had the boarding school movement, possibly the harshest of the assimilationists’ weapons, with its kidnapping of young students, hair cutting and outlawing of Indian languages.
The historical record matches our photos. The War is in 1877. The return to the Northwest, but not to the Wallowa, is in 1885, when fear of a pan-Indian uprising was rife with some. In 1887 Wallowa County broke away from Union County. And, ironically, that year the name “Joseph” was legally adopted for a town that had been variously called Lakeside, and Lake City. That they would choose that name just ten years after the eviction of the man and his band is numbing. But it was not unusual. As Indians were being displaced, Indian names were being adopted across the land, and romantic notions of Indians were making there way into popular culture, from “Indian” motorcycles to “Pontiac” cars.
Yet the turn of the twentieth century was a low point for actual American Indians. The assimilationists seemed to have carried the day. To be generous to them, to Colonel Pratt of Carlisle, Alice Fletcher and the Allotment Act, and Edward Sheriff Curtis, the photographer, the assimilationists had a real fear that Indians would literally be killed if they did not assimilate. So Fletcher would document Plains Indian culture, and Curtiss would take photos in sacred places and traditional dress of hundreds of Indians across the continent—“Vanishing Indians,” they called them, glad they had museum-saved the peoples.
The most poignant photo in our exhibit is one of Chief Joseph—Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt—on his last visit to the Wallowa, in 1900. He came with Indian agent James McLoughlin, with a translator named Edward Ruibin and with the intention of buying back a small piece of the Homeland. He was of course rebuffed. The expression on his face as he looks into the camera and the white world, seems to say all of it—weariness, rejection, and yet a remaining dignity, the inner knowledge that he had given everything he had and acted honorably in the worst of circumstances.
Today, Indians are re-learning languages and remembering food and culture across the country, and the Nez Perce and their Plateau cousins, from reservations and cities across the region, come to dance and sing in the arbor and pray in the new longhouse at the homeland grounds near the town of Wallowa. The photos in our exhibit, and especially the one of Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, are not of vanishing Indians, but of a people and culture still with us, and still watching us.
See most of the show and the photos mentioned here:
# # #
The Generational Wreckage of Boarding Schools
It was the week after Albert and Veronica Redstar, brother and sister elders of the Joseph or Wallowa Band of the Nez Perce from the Colville Reservation in Washington, talked about 140 years of exile. The audience was 45 workers and board members from Wallowa County’s government agencies and non-profits. The exile dated to the Nez Perce War of 1877, which took the Wallowa Band across the Snake River in spring flood on an unwanted journey to a reduced reservation in Idaho. An uprising of young Indians against cruel white settlers set off a war, a fighting retreat that ended five months and almost 1400 miles east and north, 40 miles from the Canadian border at Bear’s Paw, Montana. From a famous surrender there the Indians were herded to Bismarck, North Dakota, and then to Kansas and Oklahoma Indian Territory.
Eventually, through the extraordinary diplomatic efforts of their leader, Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, known to us as Chief Joseph, they were allowed to return to the West, and about half of the returnees went to the Idaho reservation. Joseph was not allowed that small reward, and he and 149 followers ended up on the Colville Reservation in north central Washington with the Moses Band. Albert and Veronica are descendants of that group of Nez Perces—still in exile from their ancestral Wallowas.
Their words about loss, and the rifts and reconciliations among the people were vivid and striking. Their remaining attachment to this Wallowa Country is palpable.
They’d meant to talk some about the continuing oppressions by government agencies and officials in the 132 years they have lived on the Colville Reservation, about the government regulations regarding language, songs, music and regalia; the Allotment Act that would turn them all into yeoman farmers; about Termination and Relocation. And about Indian boarding schools. No one was sorry that they ran out of time talking about their own people, the loss on leaving and the years of displacement. I thought I could take a few minutes to address the topic at the next class.
So on the final week of our class, when Wenix Red Elk was to talk about natural resources and about the unique program on the Umatilla Reservation that ties the First Foods served in the long house to land and natural resource management, I asked that we take a few minutes at the beginning of the class to show a short video, a trailer for a longer movie, on the boarding school experience.
I found the story of Walter Littlemoon a few years ago. Walter was born the same year I was, 1942, and grew up in South Dakota, about 300 miles from my own Minnesota birthplace. I lived with parents and, during the war, with my mother and her parents. When Walter was five years old, he was taken from his parents and put in boarding school. Years and years later, Walter is the subject of a documentary called “The Thick Dark Fog,” which described the way he had long felt and became the title of his life story as he retraced it with a filmmaker.
We watched the three minutes, and Wenix, with tears in her eyes, rose to speak. She had not seen this particular video, but the experience of the boarding schools was in her bones—“We forgot how to parent,” she said, “and lost our traditional ways of bringing up children.” And not just for one generation. That loss, Wenix said, is with her people still, with her still. I don’t know but don’t think she went to a boarding school, and if she did so, it was long after severe abuses were discovered and mitigated if not corrected. But that loss is still visibly with her.
I used this video in a class I taught last year at Eastern Oregon, and students were outraged—“We did that?” they said. And I was satisfied that I had awakened something, some new kind of empathy, in them. But I missed then what Wenix felt last week. I missed the generational loss of culture, the longing that some young Indians feel today for the lessons stolen from their grandparents and great grandparents, and therefor so difficult to pass on today.
The sins of “our” fathers visited on Indian people.
American Indians have little reason to trust the written word. They are buried in broken treaties and false history texts—words, as Chief Joseph said and Alvin Josephy reiterated 100 years later, spoken with “forked tongue.” Alvin also said that Indians have been and are still disserved by the omission of words, by historical accounts that omit the Indians who were here, and contemporary accounts that forget that they are here still.
Our Josephy Center sculpture project aims to right a local omission, that of an Indian artist on Main Street in the town of Joseph. Four bronze statues in our town depict Indians—none of them the work of an Indian artist.
We selected Doug Hyde—or Doug Hyde selected us! Doug was born in Hermiston, grew up in part at Lapwai, Idaho, was packed off to the Indian art school in Santa Fe when he was 17 after a high school teacher sent a portfolio to the school.
The road wasn’t all smooth. There was Vietnam, combat wounds, and work in Lewiston carving cemetery monuments, but now he is an established artist in bronze and stone across the country. He’s past 70, but working hard from his Arizona studio—because he loves what he does. And what he is doing now for us in Joseph is what he is doing for people and tribes across the country—telling stories without words, without forked tongues.
In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat at Christmas
In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat—Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce to the world, wondered about the white man’s religion. Henry Spalding, the Presbyterian, had baptized his father, Tuekakas, and given him the name Joseph, and on his father’s death he had taken leadership of the band of Nez Perce—Nimiipuu—who called the Wallowa Country home, and he had taken his father’s name. At least that is the name the whites called him. What he wondered about was a religion at odds with itself—Presbyterians and Catholics had fought bitterly over theology and converts in his Country from their arrival in the 1830s.
In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat saw and understood many things that whites gave him little credit for; they always managed some workaround of the Indian’s intelligence and logic in pursuit of their own agendas.
At the Josephy Library we give copies of the famous Chief’s speech at Lincoln Hall in Washington D.C., delivered in 1879, just two years after the sad conclusion of the Nez Perce War in Bears Paw, Montana. People sometimes cry when they read it. I think it is a good starting point for understanding a people and history that live with us still—an invitation for scholarship and friendship.
I am privileged to know Nez Perce people and to be learning some of the Nez Perce story. I say some, because a lifetime would be not enough to learn a story of thousands of years, and because my learning would always—will always—be through my own white eyes.
Nevertheless, I get glimpses—in stories from elders, in the way things happen here at the Nez Perce Homeland in Wallowa and at the Josephy Center when Indian people are involved. We’re privileged too to have some written history—oral stories Indians have passed down that have been transcribed; the written accounts of traders and even missionaries; and in my case especially the work of Alvin Josephy.
Alvin waited to reconstruct the story for the white world until he “found” Yellow Wolf and Hear Me My Chiefs, books that are Indian accounts taken down by an eccentric white rancher named Lucullus McWhorter. McWhorter was a friend to Indians who met Yellow Wolf and the Nez Perce as they worked in the Washington hop harvest. Yellow Wolf was a War survivor. McWhorter traveled the route of the famous War Retreat towards Canada with Yellow Wolf, and the books were published by a little known Idaho company named Caxton.
Josephy also scoured missionary and fur trade accounts, and he was just in time to meet and sweat with the last survivors of the War of 1877. His work—The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, is important in learning the story, but there is no better way to emotionally understand it than to read In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat’s words. And there is no better time to hear them than at the primary Christian holiday:
Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each other, then we will have no more wars. We shall all be alike – brothers of one father and one mother, with one sky above us and one country around us, and one government for all. Then the Great Spirit Chief who rules above will smile upon this land, and send rain to wash out the bloody spots made by brothers’ hands from the face of the earth. For this time the Indian race are waiting and praying. I hope that no more groans of wounded men and women will ever go to the ear of the Great Spirit Chief above, and that all people may be one people.
In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat has spoken for his people.
African-Americans and Indians
Two weeks ago, friend Anne Richardson arranged a discussion of Daniel Sharfstein’s book on Chief Joseph and General Howard, Thunder in the Mountains, at Portland’s Black Hat Books. And this week, on Thursday, 14 of us from Wallowa County spent the day with Director Bobbie Conner and her staff at the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation. The story of the gathering of tribal history of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla—indeed of all the related Plateau tribes—and the skill and pride with which it is displayed and used to teach new generations of Indians, is inspiring.
In the end, the two experiences help me understand what my mentor Alvin Josephy called the miracle of Indian survival, and something of the big and small differences between Euro-American treatment of African slaves and indigenous Americans.
Sharfstein teaches history and law at Vanderbilt University, and is steeped in the Civil War and Reconstruction. The short version of his book is that the load General Howard carried from his time managing the post-Civil War Freedmen’s Bureau in Washington D.C. followed him West, and that he had tried to do for Indians what he had been unable to do for freed slaves: give them Christianity, education, and agricultural land.
Thwarted in his effort to give the freed slaves land as Reconstruction tumbled and pre-war landowners regained control of the South, knowing that his clients were mostly Christian, Howard had concentrated on education—most famously, of course, with Howard University. In the end, his eastern career was shrouded in stories of mismanagement and corruption, some of them true. But most importantly, Reconstruction and his early goals for the freed slaves were shattered by others, and he was sent West—to deal with Indians.
The assignment as Commander of the military Department of the Columbia in 1874 gave Howard a chance to skip back past Reconstruction to his Civil War experiences. He became a popular Portland speaker on the subject, and in the course of it was able to recover from personal debt incurred in the East. The new position also allowed Howard to revive old ideas of making new citizens of the country, this time Indians.
Although there had been missionaries in the territory for over 30 years, Christianity was not firmly seated with the Indians of the Northwest in the 1870s. And the efforts at educating them in the Euro-American tradition, primarily by those same missionaries, had been minimally successful. Ditto with agriculture: corn seeds and potatoes, cows, and sheep had come West with the fur trade, south from Canada with Spokan Garry, north from California with gold miners. But most of the bands of Plateau Indians—Cayuse, Nez Perce, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Yakima, et al—were still making seasonal rounds, gathering the camas roots and huckleberries, fish, lamprey, deer, elk, pronghorn and buffalo that had sustained them for millennia.
Although Howard kept thinking he could make the Indian cultures and peoples in his Department of the Columbia fit into his boxes for religion, education, and agriculture/land-use, he couldn’t. The cultural differences and cognitive distances between Howard and the Indians in all three areas were huge—and ultimately insurmountable. In fact, Sharfstein shows that after the Nez Perce War, right up to and through the time that he met amicably with Joseph years later, O.O. Howard never really understood the Indian point of view, or the vast distances between it and his own.
And here is where it gets tricky. What has struck me since reading Sharfstein is the distance between the African experience with Euro-Americans and the Indian experience with Euro-Americans. Africans were forcibly stolen from many lands and cultures, brought to a new place, and, it seems to me, homogenized. Although bits and pieces of their previous languages and cultures clung on, the Africans of many tribes were thrown together, forced into new work, new language, and new religion, treated by the white culture as all the black same, until most of what they came from—except their color—was erased.
On the other hand, five or six hundred distinct North American Indian cultures were confronted by diverse Euro-American economic, religious, and military interests—by French, Dutch, Spanish and English Americans; Protestants and Catholics; corporate functionaries and free spirits. Alliances were made and battles were fought one by one by one. And for 500 years, attempts to consolidate and treat Indians as one, from war to removal to assimilation, have never completely taken hold.
Indians in this country have been enslaved, beaten, hung, and dehumanized, as have their African-American countrymen. There have been conscious and unconscious attempts at genocide; some tribes have been exterminated. Government programs moved Indians West, and moved them to smaller and smaller reservations. Assimilation—the most persistent treatment of Indians, has employed missionaries, agricultural training, land allotments, boarding schools, tribal “termination,” Indian relocation, and the banning of potlatches, languages, dances, and regalia, to make Indians white. But indigenous Americans, misnamed from the beginning, have remained Indians; more importantly, they have remained Modoc and Lakota, Delaware, Cherokee, Umatilla, Makah, Paiute, Shoshone, and Nez Perce.
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Friendship and freedom; Indian and White
|Young Joseph’s Monument, Nespelem|
This weekend a Nez Perce friend handed me a copy of a letter, written in 1940, by Walter Copping, a white man who had been a storekeeper at Nespelem, Washington. The letter writer says that Chief Joseph died in the fall of 1904 while most of the Nez Perce were gone picking hops, and that the funeral was on June 20, 1905, when there were again few Nez Perce around and he and some Indians of “other tribes” were made pallbearers. He was sure of the date, because he wrote it in his “Masonic Monitor.” He explains that when the Indians came back from hop picking that year they had another ceremony, and adds that there was a third ceremony, which Professor Meany and railroader Sam Hill attended, and at which a monument was placed at the grave site. He gives no date for this third memorial.
The man talks easily of languages—English, Nez Perce, Chinook, and it is not clear from the addressee and the names of husbands and wives that he mentions who exactly was Indian and who was white. He simply had been asked by someone to write down his memories of Joseph, and his response had been delayed—“If I wasn’t the world’s worst letter writer you would have heard from me long ago.” But he goes on to write like a good neighbor and friend would write—sometimes humorous, always respectful.
“I remember that Joseph used to come into the store and sit on the counter for an hour or two at a time and would not talk very much.. When he would talk he would speak to me in Nez Perce and if I did not know what he said he would explain in Chinook to me. He would help me to learn the Nez Perce…. I liked Joseph very much and thought he was a very fine man. Was a large (about 240# and 6’3” tall) and a fine looking fellow.”
I just finished reading Daniel Sharfstein’s Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard and the Nez Perce War. It’s a good book, and I will write more about it, but what strikes me now, as I read this letter and think of the friend who gave it to me, is how good, curious, and moral Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce were before, during, and after the War of 1877, and how utterly clueless of their own prejudices the white politicians and generals were.
The Indians were, from the arrival of Lewis and Clark, trying to understand these new people with the upside down faces. What were they looking for? What did they have to trade? What did they need? How many of them were there? What foods did they eat? What did they do with cloth, leather, steel, seeds, cattle, horses? What was their religion? And how did it fit their lives?
The whites, on the other hand, were confident in their own superiority and in their God-given right to take land not being efficiently “used’ by the Indians.
There were of course many exceptions: the fur traders who took Indian wives and adopted many Indian attitudes; the many white women, children, and men who had, from New England west, “gone native” to a place where women seemed to have more say and the social and religious demands were less restrictive; and Eliza Spalding, who, alone of the Spalding-Whitman contingent, seemed to genuinely like Indians, who learned their language and invited them into her home.
But most whites, and especially the male Anglo-Americans of political power who would eventually declare “Manifest Destiny,” were mostly dismissive of Indians, at their worst brutal towards them. The “best” of the whites thought the Indians’ only hope was assimilation—missions, boarding schools and Allotments in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, “termination” and urban relocation in the 1950s the final rush at it.
In Sharfstein’s book, Joseph is constantly trying to understand white laws and ways, and trying to put his own case in those terms. Howard is a stubborn assimilationist: the Indians needed Christianity, farms, and education.
Joseph’s requests were simple and straightforward:
“We ask that the same law shall work alike on all men…. Let me be a free man—free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself….”
I sense from this letter that for occasional moments, at a white man’s small store in Nespelem, Washington in 1900, Joseph and the storekeeper felt equal as friends. The freedoms Joseph dreamt of, were, of course, never realized.
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Race in America
I don’t know where I first heard or read that history books are often more about the time they are written in than the time they are written about. Several new books on Indians, and specifically the Nez Perce, support the idea.
|O.O. Howard and Chief Joseph|
I’m only 80 pages into the Vanderbilt professor Daniel Sharfstein’s just published Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard and the Nez Perce War. The first pages take us from the Civil War to Howard’s tenure as head of the Freedmen’s Bureau and responsibilities for the care of four million freed slaves. An early agonizing account follows General Howard, newly appointed head of the Freedmen’s Bureau, as he is dispatched to South Carolina by President Andrew Johnson; his task is to tell freed slaves who had been given “forty acres and a mule” by General Sherman that they must return the land to their former masters. This is a book about Reconstruction and race in America.
I’ll not argue about the horse and cart, whether a renewed interest in race helped propel Trump and his people into office, or whether Trump and his followers’ statements on race—and the opposition to them—have become the national conversation. “Black Lives Matter” preceded this election cycle, and my thought is that the topic—race—has been welling for some time, that it emerged pronouncedly in the campaign, and that the authors and books dealing with race, which have always been there in some measure, are now moving through publishing channels at a fevered pitch.
Slavery and the Civil War have always been the starting points for discussion of race in America. What is different is that American Indians are now part of the discussion. General Howard of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Nez Perce War is a natural vehicle for Indians’ entry into the race conversation.
But his is not the only story that brings Indians into the discussion of race in America. Another recent book, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America, by Andrés Reséndez, reminds us that Columbus sent Indian slaves back to Europe, and that enslavement of American Indians was practiced on a grand scale across the continents.
Benjamin Madley’s An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 recounts the decimation and brutality carried out against the Indians of California. And in In the Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West, historian Peter Cozzens, who has written much on the Civil War and on Western tribes, ties the stories together.
The Nez Perce story has been used to tell stories of military competence—and incompetence, of Westward expansion and the inevitable white progress across the continent that begins with Lewis and Clark. It has revealed stories of heroism, and of government betrayal, eloquent speech and the storybook endings of former foes in battle talking in comfort and mutual admiration in their retirements. It’s as though generals Howard and Gibbons sought opportunity to sit with Chief Joseph and, somehow, make things right. (The looks on Joseph’s tired face tell you that they are not.)
Now the Nez Perce Story becomes part of the conversation about America’s racial struggles.
David Osborne’s The Coming follows the Nez Perce story through the life of Daytime Smoke, William Clark’s Nez Perce son. Daytime Smoke is a true character that we know little about—he probably died in captivity after the War—but Osborne uses the story to talk about a failure of Indian-White relations with tragic consequences.
I’ve not made it through William Vollmann’s The Dying Grass, a 1300 page volume of historical fiction with footnotes, but know that it is the fourth or fifth volume in a projected series of seven—Seven Dreams—focused on the European conquest of America.
In other words, expect more. And, as a friend with academic creds told me, “it’s about time that Indians become part of this conversation.”
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Another Nez Perce book
Oregon Public Radio’s Dave Miller interviewed Daniel Sharfstein, author of the latest Nez Perce book, Thunder in the Mountains, yesterday on his “Think-Out-Loud” program. That came right on the heels of my reading David Osborne’s just released novel, The Coming, which is the Nez Perce story with William Clark’s Nez Perce son at its center.
|Daytime Smoke, William Clark’s Nez Perce son|
We know, by the way, that a Nez Perce woman bore Clark a son, Halaftooki (Daytime Smoke), and that he became a tribal elder who hoped his mixed heritage would insulate him from growing conflicts between Indians and white miners and settlers. When conflict broke out, however, he joined the non-treaties, and, as far as I know, died in captivity. Osborne’s book is a fine retelling of that story, with fictional characters and events scattered among the real ones to get Daytime Smoke from birth through the War.
But I digress. This new book, according to Miller’s interview with Sharfstein, follows the pre-Nez Perce career of O.O. Howard in the Civil War and as head of “The U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands,” popularly known as the “Freedmen’s Bureau,” established in 1865 to assist freed slaves in the reconstruction era. Follows him to Portland, describes lectures on the Civil War he gave there (a general’s retirement program), and then describes Joseph’s prewar meanderings among the Cayuse, Umatilla, and white settlers of the Grande Ronde Valley.
Examination of the Nez Perce—and especially of the Nez Perce War—is a small industry. My friend, Mike Andrews, who grew up in La Grande, has read a lot of it, and wonders what kind of patterns there are, and why the burst of new books NOW. William Vollman’s The Dying Grass, a 900 page novel with footnotes!, came out less than two years ago; Osborne’s book a couple of months ago; and T.J. Stiles, in Portland recently to talk about a new biography of Custer, announced that his next book is Joseph.
Mike asks why all the Nez Perce books; I think the more specific question might be why all the Chief Joseph books. Joseph was handsome at a time when photography was new; Joseph had a proper Christian name people could pronounce. The Nez Perce had kicked the army’s butt during the War, and as that could not have been accomplished by a bunch of ignorant heathens, Joseph must have been a military genius, the “Red Napoleon,” as the newspapers called him. And this last of the Indian wars was indeed reported by Eastern newspapers. As Joseph learned as his people were transported from Bismarck by train after surrender, the new telegraph had played a part in the War. His surrender speech and later eloquent speeches about his lost homeland, the white man’s forked tongues and rules, and requests for fair treatment, would be published, and he would be photographed.
Although early books called it Chief Joseph’s War, later books pointed out that Joseph was never a war chief—but Looking Glass and his brother Ollokot, who had been war chiefs, were dead at Bears Paw, White Bird crossed to Canada, and it was Joseph who surrendered.
And Joseph, the diplomat, who would lead his people in captivity for eight long years in the “hot country,” and, eventually, after meetings with Congress and Presidents, badgering of generals and politicians, and astute lobbying of the local and national Presbyterians, lead them back to the West.
As some one—or many—have said, history is often more about the time it is written in than the time it is written about. I would like to line up all of the Nez Perce books –455 titles now in our SAGE Library System—and see what patterns emerge.
More importantly, what histories might our times call for?
I’ve heard much about Joseph’s War, the Nez Perce War, Indian wars; it might be time to look at Indian diplomacy, at patience and endurance amidst chaos, at survival against all odds, at revival of culture and language in an electronic age, at purpose and will and heroism off the battlefield that have kept the Nez Perce, and Indian peoples across North America, alive.
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