Back in April, I got notice that the theme for the Pacific Northwest History Association’s fall meeting in Tacoma, Washington was to be “The Civil War and Civil Rights.” As it happened, I was reading Alvin J’s The Civil War in the American West at the time, and remembered a passage in the Introduction claiming that the Civil War probably saw the decimation of more Indian tribes and the takeover of more Indian lands than any comparable period in American history. The conference’s prospectus didn’t mention Indians, so I wrote them a proposal saying I wanted to talk about Alvin, the War, and Invisible Indians.
And then a couple of weeks ago I got notice that they wanted a “paper” ahead of time! A real paper. I quickly calculated that a 25 minute paper would be about 3500 words, and I have not written a 3500 word paper in a very long time! When I told my brother, who teaches at nearby Washington State, what I had to do, he howled. “Welcome to my world,” he chuckled.
Until I reread the Josephy book and tried to get around it all: Indians, Civil War, Civil Rights. Settlers, armies, generals (there were a lot of them in that war!), Butterfield Road, Oregon Trail, Pony Express, tribes, treaties, mountain men, Mexico, Texas—the Republic of, Sam Houston, the Gadsden Purchase, Northwest Territory, Indian Territory, Lincoln, massacres—Sand Creek and Bear River and Indians massacring Whites in Minnesota, Minnesota—my home state. And pretty soon I was back at Columbus and Squanto, Jacque Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin and trying to get some handle on the history of White and Indian relations—Alvin’s life work and here I am trying to distill it all into an argument about Indians and the Civil War!