The Beadworkers

Here’s a holiday book recommendation—a gift to yourself and then to pass on to others: The Beadworkers, by Beth Piatote.

Cover art is beadwork
by artist Marcus Amerman

I got an early copy weeks ago, and sped through the poems and stories quickly, but for some reason stopped at the play that ends the collection. This morning I read it in a sitting, and wondered why I had left it so long.

neti’telwit / human beings” gathers the stories of Indian Wars, of legal and physical mistreatment of Indians, loss and recapture of language; competing notions of getting along in the American world and hanging onto traditions and meanings passed on by elders; the interrelationships of museum and tribal holdings, family and communal pasts. And it weaves and works the script—present and past, now and hereafter—with the loom built in Antigone, by the Greek tragedian Sophocles. It’s a tour de force that holds up the tragedies, disappointments, complexities and the hopes of Indian America, then turns them deftly for our consideration–and importantly allows us, the readers, no easy answers.

Beth Piatote came to Fishtrap almost 20 years ago. We honored Indians that year, calling it “Circling Back.” One of the guests was Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock journalist from Idaho with a long history of work for tribal and mainstream newspapers. He brought Beth along—my recollection is that their history went back to southern Idaho, where Beth grew up.

She was working on a multi-generational novel at the time, and teaching at the University of Oregon in journalism and, maybe, Indian studies. We loved her writing, and invited her to be a writer in residence at our local schools. She did, and we loved her more. But then she went back and went on with her life, almost out of our reach and thoughts.

Doug Hyde–‘etweyé·wise

But she came back. Somehow a couple of years ago I found her teaching and writing at UC Berkeley. She was learning the Nez Perce language and making contact with Nez Perce elders at Nespelem, where she was enrolled, but had not grown up. A short time after that she told me how she had brought Nez Perce language elders from Nespelem, Lapwai, and Umatilla to Berkeley, where they met with Haruo Aoki, compiler of the acknowledged Nez Perce-English dictionary.

This summer, as we readied Nez Perce artist Doug Hyde’s sculpture for the Josephy Center courtyard, I reached out to Beth and those language elders. Beth brought Aoki himself into the conversation, and together they named the Doug Hyde sculpture. They named it ‘etweyé·wise—“I return from a hard journey.”

Beth came back to Fishtrap this summer to read and teach, and struck a new cohort of Fishtrap faculty and attendees as she had struck us those years ago. (She’s already invited back for this summer.)

And then The Beadworkers came in the mail.

By the way, don’t skip the poems and stories on the way to  neti’telwit / human beings.

Osage–and Lucky to be Here

Where to start?

I just finished reading Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. I thought first about people I know—people of Osage blood—who are indeed “lucky to be here” in light of what happened in Osage County, Oklahoma in the first decades of the twentieth century.

And then “Osage Outrage” came to mind, as what started out as a novel-paced mystery became a litany of lies, deceit, greed, and cold-blooded murder. A novelist would not have left as many dangling unanswered questions, or so many people dead.

Finally, thoughts that could not be as easily captured in a few words came to mind: “It is a question in my mind,” said an Osage Tribal member prior to trial, “whether this jury is considering a murder case or not. The question for them to decide is whether a white man killing an Osage is murder—or merely cruelty to animals.”

“America’s original sin” came to mind. I remembered the first Europeans, Columbus’s crew, having to go to the Pope to decide whether new world people were indeed humans, possessed of souls, or some lower form of life. But three hundred years had passed from the time of the Papal Bull, which said that Indians did indeed have souls (and were thus capable of conversion), and the murders of scores—maybe hundreds—of Osage Indians in the pursuit of wealth. Were the killings mere evil deeds in pursuit of gold—or were they a continuing statement by White America that American Indians are lesser humans, or not humans at all?

I first heard bits of the story from the poet Elise Paschen, the daughter of prima ballerina Maria Tallchief. Tallchief was born in Oklahoma, the daughter of an Osage Indian father, and went from there to the world stage. Elise was at Fishtrap because she is a fine poet, and we were celebrating Indian writers that year. We called the celebration “Circling Back.” Elise read her poems, a couple of which hinted at the dark Osage past, and in conversation said that there was much more to learn and tell.

Sandy Osawa, the fine documentary filmmaker, who is Makah and was raised on that reservation in Washington, was at that Summer Fishtrap. Sandy produced an early morning NBC show on Indians in the mid-70s, and is now a highly regarded documentary filmmaker. Her credits include: In the Heart of Big Mountain, focusing on Navajo matriarch Kathrine Smith; Pepper’s Powwow, the story of Kaw-Muscogee jazz saxophonist Jim Pepper; and Lighting the Seventh Fire, a film about Chippewa spearfishing rights in Wisconsin.

Sandy and Elise became friends, and in 2007 Sandy released Maria Tallchief, which has been shown on PBS stations across the country.

The film mentions, but does not explore in depth, the Osage murders. In Killers of the Flower Moon, author David Grann does. It is a wicked story, beginning with government displacement of Indians, moving to oil discovery on the scrubby lands given the Osage, chronicling the extraordinary wealth of the Osage (the “wealthiest county in America,” for a time); exploring racial attitudes in Oklahoma and the country in the early 20th century, and then following the greed of a few white men—a trickle of evildoers that became a river of corruption and destruction. Reading it was a journey from interest through disbelief to disgust. I set it down sick to my stomach.

But the Osage survive. Maria Tallchief survived to give pleasure to millions as a dancer; her daughter Elise Paschen—we might call her a second generation Osage survivor—survives to give voice to Indian stories; and my friend Nancy Crenshaw, whose father was born on the Osage Reservation in the time of the murders, teaches the children of Wallowa County and, with her teacher son and a growing group of local community members, works with the Nez Perce towards reconciliation of white and Indian in their traditional Wallowa homeland.

Elise and Nancy are really “lucky to be here.” The woman or man murdered could have been grandfather or father rather than aunt, grandmother or mother rather than uncle. And we of course, are lucky too, richer—and not in oil or gold—for their survival.

# # #

Remembering Ivan Doig

The Daily News Online

I think it was the fall of 1977 or the spring of 1978. We had opened the Bookloft in Enterprise in late 1976, and were going to our first “trade show.” It was in a Seattle hotel, and there were tables and tables of books—books recently published or about to be—with publishers’ representatives standing behind their wares and offering special deals…. if we would just order so many books.

And there were authors’ appearances. Over the course of a weekend a dozen or more authors read briefly and talked about their new books, and we booksellers, new cloth book bags in hand and already filled with publishers’ catalogs, stood in line after the appearances for free autographed books.

Ivan Doig was an unknown at the time—still making a living as a journalist as I recall. But he was good, and I stood in line for him, and made it to the front before Harcourt Brace & Jovanovich ran out of copies of This House of Sky. When my turn came, Ivan looked me in the eye and asked me what my name was. “I’m going to sign this to you—so you won’t sell it!” he chuckled.

A few years passed, and a quiet couple came into the bookstore, browsed, and drank coffee in Judy’s Kitchen at the rear of the store. They didn’t announce themselves, but I slowly figured, from that first Seattle meeting and the jacket pictures on his books (by then there were several), that it was Ivan Doig. They said that writer-friend Craig Lesley had said good things about the country and our bookstore, so Ivan and his wife Carol had made the long drive from Montana or from Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane to Portland and Seattle—or from Seattle and Portland to Spokane or Montana—taking the long route through Lewiston on Highway 3.  We had a short talk, they bought a book or two, and were on their way.

In 1988, I moved from the bookstore to Fishtrap, and immediately began inviting Ivan Doig to join us. I had a fistful of polite rejections when another writer, Bill Kittredge, explained that he and many of his friends enjoyed the writing conference circuit, but Ivan stayed home and wrote!

That didn’t deter me; I kept inviting him. And in 1994 our theme was “The Restless West: WW II and After,” and Ivan had a new book out. It was called Heart Earth, and covered the War period from a trove of letters between his mother and her brother, who was stationed on the USS Ault in the Pacific. Ivan’s mother had passed when he was six, so he was reconstructing a time in his own life and in her life that had been covered over as he and his dad moved from sheep ranch to cow camp across Montana in the 1940s and 50s. He would be a perfect fit.

I learned later that it wasn’t the theme that brought him to Fishtrap—historian Richard White, from the University of Washington, was our keynoter. He and Ivan were friends from the time Ivan picked up a Phd in History at UW. When sales of House of Sky took off, so did any thoughts of an academic career, though Doig is remembered for the attention to historical accuracy in all of his books.

So he and Richard had talked. Ivan had seen a little bit of the Wallowas, and that was good, and Richard’s friend, the historian Alvin Josephy, would be here. So there was the chance to meet him. He came, read, and talked, and we all loved him. Personable, honest, a man who read and treasured Irish writers and Australian writers as well as his American peers. For Ivan’s stories and Richard White on how WW 2 had shaped the West, and for Alvin’s stories of the Pacific—that was the time he played a recording of the landing at Guam—it was a memorable Fishtrap.

I can see him now at the Fishtrap podium. I think I am going to dig out a recording of his 1994 talk. I had no notion that he had been battling cancer for eight years, and his death on April 10, which I am now reading about in the Missoulian and the NY Times and Washington Post, slipped right by me. Those who knew him revere the connections (recollections like mine must be going on in thousands of minds as I write), and no one seems surprised that he had been quiet about the cancer, and gone on doing research, writing books, and granting interviews to the end.

# # #

True Grit, the Civil War, and yes—Alvin Josephy

Fishtrap—the old literary non-profit that kept me going for over 20 years, is back with another National Endowment for the Arts sponsored “Big Read” this month. The book is Charles Portis’s True Grit—the tale of a 14 year-old girl named Mattie Ross avenging her father’s murder with the help of a Federal Marshall/gunman named Rooster Cogburn in a chase that begins in Arkansas and ends in Indian Territory. 
I’d never read the book, and have only vague memories of John Wayne/Rooster and the girl traipsing across hard ground in a series of shoot-‘em-ups, gradually coming to terms with each other and eventually gaining some revenge. I have not seen the new film, so the movie picture poster of John Wayne was stuck in my mind as I began to read.
And then the book took over, the story carried me along. And the text didn’t send me back to the movie or on to other John Wayne’s—but to the Alvin Josephy book I think most neglected, The Civil War in the American West.
In the last chapters of that book, I slogged again through Josephy’s detailed descriptions of the conflict on the border lands—who knew there were so many generals blue and gray working Arkansas, Missouri, and Indian Territory; and so many “irregulars,” the Union sympathizing “jayhawkers” and Confederate “bushwhackers” that Rooster talks about and was. It can send one’s head spinning with what it must have been to have been there in that chaos and deadliness.
I’ve not been there, but from talking with people and reading accounts by those who have, I know that war is hell. Contemporary images—Cambodia, Rwanda, the amputees of Sierra Leone and video coverage of Syria and South Sudan today—are chilling. Yet our own Civil War still ranks in the front row of vicious conflicts. And Charles Portis’s Rooster Cogburn is a gun-slinging survivor of that. And Mattie too.
And not of the Main Event in the East, but this hodge podge of regulars and irregulars, jayhawkers and bushwhackers, Confederate Indians and Union sympathizing Indians and Indians just trying to survive, free blacks and freed slaves, opportunistic politicians, dispossessed townspeople and farmers, in some sense refugees and victims all in a sideshow of the big War being run from Washington and Richmond.
As Mattie moves into Indian Territory, fearing “wild Comanches,” she sees instead “rather civilized Creeks and Cherokees and Choctows from Mississippi and Alabama who had owned slaves and fought for the Confederacy and wore store clothes.”  She doesn’t talk about Jackson’s removal policy that put them in Indian Territory, or about Stand Watie, the Cherokee general who commanded these Southern sympathizing Indians (and the last Confederate general to lay down arms). I don’t know how knowingly and ironically Portis gave Mattie the last name of the leader of the Union side of the Cherokee Nation, John Ross. His story is a tragic one.
We do know that Mattie has heard that Rooster “rode by the light of the moon with Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson.” Rooster admits as much later, explaining how he and his buddy Potter had, after the War, ducked away from a jayhawker on a one-day parole and got into the federal marshal business. We don’t hear about Quantrill’s raiders’ 1863 massacre. Josephy describes it this way: “in the most frightful atrocity of the Civil War, Quantrill, at the head of 450 guerillas, had burst upon the sleeping town of Lawrence, Kansas, massacring its male inhabitants and burning most of its buildings.”
On a lighter note, Rooster’s cat is named after the Confederate General Sterling Price. Josephy tells us that Price had a late grand scheme to go north into Illinois and engage in the Main Event. With Thomas C. Reynolds, Missouri’s Confederate Governor in Texas exile at his side, Price, “grown flabby, slow moving and obese, weighing almost 300 pounds,” pulled in an ambulance towed by four mules, intends to free Jefferson City, where Reynolds hopes to be installed as Missouri Governor, on his way to Springfield.
It doesn’t happen, and maybe Portis enjoyed giving the slow-moving Price’s name to Rooster’s cat. And letting Rooster’s evasive comments about Quantrill and the violence in the book speak to the ambivalent times in the Border Lands at Civil War’s end. Reading the historical account, realizing the cultural history that an educated Arkansan of Portis’s time carried as he wrote, Mattie and Rooster and their gun-slinging adventure gain credence—and let the rest of us in on pieces of the Civil War and its aftermath that Arkansans and Missourians and Indians know well.
# # #

A poet’s–and teacher’s–ear: Josephy and Kim Stafford

Kim Stafford tells the story of Alvin Josephy giving a talk at his college, Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon. At the end of the talk, says Kim. Michael Mooney, then President of the College, rose to ask Alvin why he continually used the term, “Indian,” when “Native American” might be more appropriate and accurate.

Alvin did not explain that “American” has its own historical problems in trying to think or name indigenously, but quietly, “graciously” and “directly,” says Kim, answered that Indian was what his friends in Indian Country called themselves.


Alvin tried his hand at a novel—abandoned, I believe, because it coincided with and dealt with the painful breakup of his first marriage at the end of the War. He wrote radio plays and screen plays that were produced, and told me once that he had tried his hand at a Broadway musical. As far as I know, he never wrote a poem. But he had that kind of ear, that way of listening and picking up the body language of the speaker and other voices in a room. Once, at Fishtrap, overwhelmed with good feeling after listening to several Indians read and talk, he opined briefly that the spirits of Nez Perce elders were present and happy with events at Wallowa Lake that day.


This gift of careful listening, quiet reflection, and the gracious response is one that characterizes Kim Stafford. His father, William Stafford, was the poet at the Library of Congress, a title later changed to U.S. Poet Laureate. And William held the title of Oregon Poet Laureate for many years. At a meeting to revive the position (now held by Paulann Peterson), I suggested, semi-seriously, that we name Kim Stafford our state “teacher laureate.”


I met Kim when he was a poet in the schools in Wallowa County in 1978. In 1988, he helped launch Fishtrap, and at every step of the way he has been at the pivot point of Fishtrap’s programs and changes. This summer he will begin a year-long workshop in memoir.


But let me tell one more story about Kim the teacher. Steve Arment, the local woodworker responsible for the beautiful wood screen doors across the county, the wood-work décor in many fine local establishments, and, once, a full carousal full of birds and exotic animals, wanted his step-daughter to take a Fishtrap workshop. He would trade us for a new podium—or pulpit as I soon began calling it. After thinking and discussing, we put Rose in Kim Stafford’s workshop. Alice Warnock, the Grandma Moses of Baker County, was then in her 80s and taking the same workshop. On day two or three I stepped in as the group broke for lunch to ask how it was going. “You can’t imagine,” said Alice, “how wonderful it is to remember what it is like to be sixteen.” (And yes, the pulpit is the one still used at Fishtrap—and Rose is now on the Fishtrap Board!)


Kim’s students learn to listen and learn from him and from each other, the mark, I believe, of a great teacher.


If you have a story to tell and want to make a book of it, and you need the gentle nudges and quiet affirmations of peers and mentor, I suggest you consider Kim’s year-long workshop. I understand that there are now eight enrolled and there is room for a couple more. The information is at


A reflection on Winona LaDuke’s visit to Fishtrap

Small world—and invisible Indians

Winona LaDuke was at Winter Fishtrap this weekend. She is an enrolled member of the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabeg on the White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota and a global activist on behalf of Indian rights and sustainable natural resource use.

Winona is not bitter or self-pitying, but straight forward, proud, realistic, rational, and spiritual all-together. Seven of the eight million dollars spent on food on her reservation go immediately off-reservation, she said. Some huge percentage of electrical energy is spent in the mining and transportation of fuels and the transmission across far distances. On her reservation they will grow and produce more of their own food; they will build wind turbines and develop wind energy.

People hovered after her talk. I approached slowly and introduced myself as having been born and partially raised in Fosston, Minnesota, at the edge of the White Earth Reservation. “My father was born in Fosston, in 1929,” she said. (He later went to California where he was an Indian in the movies—“an extra $25 if you fell off your horse”—and where Winona was born.). I said that an uncle had a small fishing resort called the “Hideout” on Island Lake right after the War. “That would have been off county road #4,” she said.

There were no Indian kids in school—my guess was that they went to small country schools on the reservation. “Probably until eighth grade,” she thought, as that was as far as her father had gone. Only now I think that some of the Indian kids must have been hustled off to boarding schools in other places. I didn’t think to ask her about boarding schools.

Indians were invisible to us. We didn’t know any Indians. On county road #4 we saw a few shacks and big cars. We thought that when Indians got money they bought Cadillacs and got drunk. We didn’t know about the kids, though our parents pitied them.

Then I remembered trips to Itasca State Park, the headwaters of the Mississippi River—“that’s on the Reservation,” Winona chimed—and that for a quarter I had my picture taken sitting on an Indian chief’s lap (why do I remember the quarter?). I don’t know what happened to the picture, but I remember that the Indian had a large feathered headdress and wore buckskin. “That was probably my grandfather,” said Winona.

This is all sixty years ago, and it pains me to write it. I’ve gone to good schools and traveled far, lived for 40 years in Nez Perce country in Oregon—land the Indians were driven from with broken treaties and threats of war. I spend some of my time now going through the books and articles written by the late Alvin Josephy, my mentor still.

Americans have always tried to do away with Indians, Alvin said. We killed them first with diseases, wars, and broken treaties. And for the last hundred years have worked hard at killing “Indianness,” the Indian in them. This has been called assimilation, integration, termination.

Oh, we love them too—love what they were or we imagined them to have been. Alvin called these ideas “Nobel Savage” and “Vanishing Indian.” Indians were idealized by Rousseau and other European intellectuals, and captured in ethnographic studies of language and culture as the same languages, dances, and songs were outlawed on the reservations. They were photographed, most famously by Edward Sheriff Curtis, in regalia they no longer wore. He would pay them a few dollars for changing from regular clothes—often rags—into regalia.

Most importantly, Alvin said, they have often been “omitted” from history. The many languages—over 2000 mutually unintelligible at time of European contact, diverse cultures, arts and artifacts that display skills in engineering, math, and trade, Indian contributions to world agriculture from potato to tomato, and the very way they strove—and strive still—for harmony within the natural world have for the most part been absent from histories and textbooks.

Maybe the books are better now, but I wonder how far we have really come from the days of Winona’s father and grandfather and me in northern Minnesota, when Indians were Tonto on the radio, a photo chief at a state park, and invisible where they lived….



Loeffler, Abbey, and Josephy

Dear Friends of the Josephy Library,

Welcome to the first Library Blog! Actually, I am sending the text in a regular email, as I have been doing for the past year or so, but it will now be posted on the the Josephy Library blog, where you are now!

This is all new ground for me, so patience please—and I will appreciate your suggestions.


Jack Loeffler comes to Fishtrap

Jack Loeffler celebrated his 74th birthday in a hotel room in Baker City on his way to Fishtrap this July. He’d been as far as Joseph before, sat on Alvin Josephy’s deck and interviewed him, but he had never made it as far as Wallowa Lake. He was thrilled with the first sight of it..

On Monday morning we began a conversation that seemed like it had started ages ago, and the time between the phantom conversations of the past and today melted away. From time to time Jack would say that he needed to interview himself about Josephy, and I would think that I should have a damned recorder going while we talked.

Neither happened, but I’m hoping they will.

Jack brought us a disc with a couple of hours of interview time with Alvin, and he brought stories: the time he read Alvin’s testimony defending the Hopis in a fight with Peabody Coal; the camping trip with Alvin sleeping under the pickup until a thunderstorm woke him thumping into the bottom of the pickup bed and scrambling inside. And on and on…

At Fishtrap, in a brief afternoon session, Loeffler played short snippets of interviews—most done for radio programs in New Mexico—on environmental issues with Stewart Udall, author John Nichols, Earth Firster Dave Forman, Sierra and Friends of the Earth’s David Brower, Ed Abbey, Alvin Josephy, and a host of others. There was no name dropping—just 20 second blurbs from here and there to make a point..

Later, I asked him about the Abbey and Josephy exchange about grazing on public lands.. Abbey was of course dead set against grazing; Alvin, informed by friendships and hours on horseback with Wallowa County ranchers like Jack McClaran and Biden Tippett, took a different point of view. Developers were the real problem; ranchers and environmental thinkers should be in league.

It was a friendly dialog, according to Jack. His eyes sparkled with the thought of his old friends, Ed Abbey and Alvin Josephy, in a long-ago conversation that could still stir emotions today. I’ll have to send you that picture of Ed and Alvin on the rim of the Grand Canyon.” But he didn’t need to—it’s in his memoir about Abbey, Adventures with Ed. Clean shaven Alvin between bearded Ed and long-haired Jack, with a small group of anthropologists and photographers all looking very much 1971. I’m sure Alvin had to catch a plane soon to an editorial board meeting at American Heritage or a session with some Indian tribe or government committee redesigning the BIA.

But he looks happy and not completely out of place with this band of 1970s renegade thinkers in the thin Southwest air.

p.s. I found another picture of Ed and Alvin—In Alvin’s memoir! And I am posting it here.