The Civil War and Nez Perce Treaties

Yesterday in line at the grocery store, a new young clerk was telling someone how interested he was in the Civil War, and how he really wanted to go east and visit Antietam.  I piped up to suggest that he think about the civil war in the west. Had he ever wondered how Union County got its name, and why there is a Sumter close by? And did he know about the impact of the Civil War on Indian tribes, and specifically on the Nez Perce treaties?
I’m teaching a short, non-credit class on the Nez Perce and the Wallowas, and plan to devote one of five sessions to the treaties. Thinking about the grocery store clerk and about the upcoming class, it occurred to me that Alvin Josephy’s treatment of the treaties—in his books and in a long article for American Heritage on the 1855 Treaty—might have been different had he done the Civil War in the West book first. 
Briefly, here’s the chronology: 1855 is the Stevens treaty talks in Walla Walla. As a lawyer friend points out, the Nez Perce negotiated a pretty good treaty. They were the only ones to get their own reservation—the initial Stevens goal was to put them together with others on a confederated reservation. And they ceded very small amounts of their traditional village and migratory grounds.
Then, in 1861, gold was discovered on the Nez Perce Reservation. In 1862, directly contravening the provisions of the treaty, 18,000 white miners flooded the reservation. Remember, the Civil War is underway. There is no way that the federal government can remove 18,000 miners from the reservation. And the Union wants the gold!
I remember as a child that Civil War currency—like Weimar marks—was available for cereal box tops (well, I don’t remember any specific box top offers, but it seemed that there were; kids had Confederate dollars). Lincoln and the Union wanted the trails West open for many reasons, but one of them was to retrieve the gold which made Union currency hard currency. Currency that could buy arms and goods from other countries. What would have happened had the Confederacy controlled roads west? Why was the first road West the trail in the Southwest? Prior to the Civil War, none of the central or northern routes for rails or trails was agreeable to Southern Senators (including the Northern rail route surveyed by Stevens).
So the series of Indian treaties and broken treaties, the Minnesota uprising and the Mankato hangings, the Sand Creek and Bear River massacres, all owed to keeping Western trails open and retrieving Western gold. Yes, there were other factors, including fights over votes leading up to the War, recruitment of volunteers, etc. But, as Alvin points out in Civil War in the American West, the decimation of Indian tribes that goes on during the War and that continues after the War is all intricately tied to the great War that most Americans associate with Antietam and Gettysburg.
At War’s end, with the Nez Perce situation still unsettled and President Grant trying to deal with the “Indian problem” with his 1868 Peace Policy—giving reservation administration to the churches, with military commanders having their own solutions to the Indian problem, with Custer and Black Hills gold strikes and a War-time legacy of making and breaking treaties, everything that happens to the Nez Perce is in the shadow of that War.
Which all makes me wonder whether Alvin would have written those treaty chapters differently had he pulled all of the Civil War in the West material together first. It is one of many questions I failed to ask him when he was with us.
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Rail Routes West

For folks with a keen interest in Western history, our Josephy Library is a small treasure ground. And like any treasure field, the prizes show up almost at random.
Summer intern Erik Anderson, a bibliophile and student of Don Snow’s at Whitman College, suggested I take a look at this one yesterday. He guessed that it was one of our rarer holdings.
And I think he’s right: Volume VI of the Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economic Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, a twelve-volume mammoth undertaking exploring four prospective railroad routes to the Pacific, made by the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers to the Secretary of War, published between 1855 and 1860.
Volume VI is the report of Lt. Henry Abbot on potential railroad routes from Sacramento Valley to the Columbia River. At the time, this was one of the best government documents relating the natural history of the far west, including five lithographs of fossil shells and a color lithograph of a Ponderosa pine.  
Our copy came from Grace Bartlett, and to her, presumably from her father, Robert Sawyer, one-time editor-publisher of the Bend Bulletin and chair of the State’s Highway Department. In a biographical sketch from the Bulletin that I have saved somewhere, Sawyer is listed as one of the 50 most influential Oregonians of the first half of the twentieth century. His story, and Grace’s story—Grace was Wallowa County’s de facto resident historian for many years, the author of many historical essays and the book, The Wallowa Country, 1867-77, and was the first curator of the Wallowa County Museum—are interesting and significant in their own rights. But we leave that for another day.
Reading Josephy on the Civil War in the West, I realize just how important the issue of rail routes was in the run-up to the War. Southern Senators pressed for a southern route, hoping to pick up a slave-state along the way. They were encouraged by sympathies in Southern California, and the new New Mexico territory, recently “gained” from Mexico. Free-staters pushed for Central or Northern routes and a Homestead Act, with hopes for more free states, Congressional and Presidential votes, and, probably, with some early vision of manifest destiny that would carry the country—progressively—to the Pacific.
And all had an eye on Western gold. That prize would go to the Union—without the railroad—and one wonders how big an impact Western gold had on the economies of North and South and War’s outcome.
There is a fine web site with descriptions of the twelve-volume railroad route work at
I am especially interested in Volume XII, with Governor Isaac Steven’s accounts of explorations for a route along the 47-49th parallels. Stevens wore so many hats—Territorial Governor, Indian Agent, and Rail Route Surveyor—but the impact of his treaty making, which I am sure he saw in terms of service to the grander goal of route to the Pacific, is what stays with us and influences events down to this day.
Back to our copy—Sawyer’s copy, and then Grace’s copy—of Volume VI of the work. It describes a side route, a line that would link California and the Northwest. But the study includes very early botanical, zoological, and geographical information of the region. As an added bonus, our copy includes notes, made by Sawyer in the late 1920s or early 30s, identifying early place names and their modern equivalents, painstakingly hand-copied into the margins of the book by his daughter.    
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Indians and the Civil War

From the Pequot War forward, Alvin Josephy wrote in a 1979 article in The Indian Historian

Whites gave the Native Americans three options. The first was that they could stop being Indians and turn themselves into Whites. They would have their hair cut, wear White men’s clothes, become Christians, live in White men’s houses, become farmers or mechanics, and adopt the White men’s language, customs, ways of living, values, society, and culture. In other words, they would become assimilated and disappear as Indians. If they refused, they would have to be pushed away, westward to a safe distance, where they would have no contact with White society. They would continue as “wild” Indians, unconquered, but neither a physical or cultural threat to the Whites. If they refused to move or become assimilated, they had a third option: extermination.

For most of American history, Alvin says in several places, assimilation has been official policy and the mood of the country. And from the days of first European contact, early colonies, fur companies, and the “United” States, some Indian individuals have readily assimilated. But for most Indians, assimilation has not been easy—missionaries, Indian agents, boarding schools, beatings and berating for lingering signs of “Indianness,” have made for hard lives, but lives nevertheless. 
If I read Alvin’s Civil War in the West correctly, the War years marked a hiatus from assimilation. Removal and/or extermination of Western tribes became primary government policy and military and civilian practice. 
According to Josephy, the West was wrapped up in the Civil War. In the East, Northern and Southern politicians fought over roads west and homestead laws as they gauged political leanings of Western states and territories.  Westering emigrants—freed slaves, draft evaders, seekers of fortune and land—fought the Indians over land and each other over their Southern and Northern roots. And military men stationed in the West went East to be in the big War on one side or the other, or complained at being stationed far away from the big War. Maybe most importantly, North and South jockeyed for Western gold and prospectors ran roughshod over Indian lands before the War started and through its duration.
In the introduction to Civil War in the American West, Josephy says that 
…during the four years of the Civil War… more Indian tribes were destroyed by whites and more land was seized from them than in almost any comparable time in American History. Although some of the most heinous massacres of Indian peoples… accompanied this process, the warfare in various parts of the West was inconclusive, and continued on after 1865, when Regular troops… sought under Sherman, Sheridan, Custer and others to complete the conquest of those tribes that were still able to resist.
In 1862 Minnesota, treaties promised land, commodities, and annuities to the Indians, but settlers occupied the promised lands, annuities went to traders for supposed Indian debts, and agents and the governor skimmed the commodities. In desperation, the Minnesota Dakota (four bands of Sioux Indians) massacred scores of whites and were eventually chased out of the state and joined brethren in the Dakotas and Canada. Lincoln released many of those captured, but 38 Indians were hanged. The Sioux chapter ends in the post-War massacre at Wounded Knee in 1891.
In 1863 on Bear River in Idaho Territory, Colonel Patrick Conner directed the slaughter of 250 peaceful Northwestern Shoshonis. Chief Bear Hunter was tortured and finally killed with a red-hot bayonet thrust through his head, and Mormon guides described Indian women “used in the act of dying from their wounds.”
Sand Creek Massacre

In 1964, at Sand Creek in Colorado, Colonel John Chivington descended on a peaceful village of 550 Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho, and his Colorado cavalrymen bashed in babies’ heads and took scalps, skin, and genitals, which they later paraded in Denver.

“In California, posses of settlers combed the forests and mountains, shooting down every Indian they saw… [and] communities paid bounties for Indian scalps.”
And there was Kit Carson.
If I had to summarize the awful series of events, it would be a pattern of land grabs and destruction of hunting and gathering grounds, Indian starvation (in Nevada, 300 starving Pauites raided miners supply wagons, eating flour “raw from the sacks”), and then predation on settlers and emigrant trains; disgruntled military officers killing Indians when they couldn’t kill Confederates; gold rushes and keeping the overland routes open for gold and the prospectors, settlers, and adventurers who came relentlessly throughout the War; treaties, broken treaties, and corruption of public officials in their dealings with the Indians in the middle of it all; reprisals and retributions.
If Josephy is right, why don’t we know more about the Civil War in the West and the toll it took on Indians? Disinterest of Civil War historians in the West and Indians? Confusion or disinterest on the part of Indian historians about the Civil War? The overwhelming destruction of the War in the East, and the years of political and civil rights controversy that followed?
If Alvin is right, Indian affairs have again been shuffled to the bottom of the historical deck, and Indians have again been omitted from the main narrative of American History.
Please tell me if he’s wrong—or if I am reading him wrong.
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The History Urge

Our class at the Josephy Center read the Introduction and the “Manifest Destiny” chapter from Alvin’s Civil War in the American West this week. I was struck again by the paucity of information in general circulation—i.e., textbooks, movies, TV shows, and popular books—about Indians, Civil War, and the West. But Alvin said many times that there was and is a mother lode of historical information on places, people, and events that have shaped the American West: stories from Idaho, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, California, stories of battles, of generals resigning to go home to the South, of emigrant trains, Pony Express (yes, that too during Civil War years), and Indian massacres. With a little digging, one could find the vote count in Oregon—the Republicans carried by 221 votes!, or the fact, turned up by one of our participants, that George Pendleton, namesake of our Pendleton, Oregon, was a staunch slavery advocate and the town once boasted streets named after Confederates.  
Most often, according to Alvin, amateur historians, good citizens with a history urge, have gathered these stories and kept them alive. His work was to gather and sift the material and relate it to what was happening in the East and to Eastern leadership of the Union and the Confederacy. I can bet that he came to the story himself through his work in Indian history. He would have turned up the Sioux Uprising in Minnesota, and followed that to its sorry but important conclusion, then the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado and the Bear River Massacre in Idaho.
His genius was in gathering, standing back and taking a long historical look, and then weaving the pieces into a quilt that shows us more than the small pieces—or the dramatic events that dominate our idea of the Civil War—ever can. So we learn that the Civil War period saw a greater decimation of Indian tribes and takeover of Indian lands than any comparable time in our history. We follow the patterns—from Minnesota to Idaho—of encroachment, starvation, reprisal, loss of life and land, treaty, then more encroachment, starvation, etc.
I was struck, on rereading Chapter 8, on the number of times the word “starvation” was used. Settlers or miners came to an area, destroyed grasslands or used up other resources, starved, shot a settler’s cow, were hounded back and “treatied,” were promised secure (but much smaller) pieces of land, sometimes money and commodities, and then relived the cycle again or stewed and drowned in their diminished circumstances.
Alvin was a long-time editor at American Heritage. The Civil War book first appeared as a Time-Life western history volume in 1986. His passion was in making history readable, connected to the present, and true to historical facts. He wanted a general historical awareness, and praised the history buffs who carried local torches. I think he stayed at American Heritage after his own career as an historian had taken off in part because of his urge to keep the history urge alive in America.
And I remember him saying that he had gathered so much material on the Civil War in the West, and the general knowledge of the same was so scarce, that he had to do a full sized book on the subject. The big book was published in 1991. Something for the real history buff—and something the academic historians might have to take into account.
I was googling around to see what had happened to the big book—which is still in print, with four-star reviews. And I stumbled onto Gordon Chappell, who has published an on-line bibliography of the Civil War in the American West (with a nod to Alvin in the introductory paragraph). Pages and pages of books on events and people related to the War in the West. Books from university presses and books privately published. (I was struck by the number of titles from Nebraska and Oklahoma university presses, who make their living scratching the history itch.)
I wonder if Alvin ever met Chappell, but am sure that he met and encouraged hundreds of folks who had that same urge. If you are one of them, take a look at this bibliography of the Civil War—and scratch your own head about textbook and Civil War re-enactors fixations on Gettysburg and Vicksburg.