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 The Article

Indian Church

Longhouse at Wallowa Nez Perce Homeland

It’s called a “longhouse,” because long ago tipis were strung together to make a “long tent” of hides or tule mats that could accommodate a large number of people for living, and, eventually, for religious ceremonies. The ceremonies are often called “seven drums,” because there are most often seven hand drums and a bell at the west end of the room or space looking toward the east, where the view to the rising sun is open. Songs are sung in cycles of threes and sevens, the lead singer/drummer rotating with each song. Women are on the south side and men and boys on the north, and a dirt floor in the center is a place where dancers dance and celebrants moved to speak speak.

These ceremonies and the religious beliefs expressed in the long house have been honed over centuries by Indians of the Plateau tribes of the interior Northwest.

President Grant thought he Read The Article

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 Read The Article

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, Read The Article

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 Read The Article

The most famous Indian in America


Note: We just completed a four week examination of the “Wallowa Country: 1855-1900” at the Josephy Center. Teaching is new to me, but four high school juniors and a fine group of eighteen older history buffs, curious newcomers to the Wallowa, and serious students of Indian affairs led me to learn and organize what I am learning as I try to follow Alvin Josephy’s intellectual and emotional  life journey in Indian America. Much has been written about the Nez Perce War and about Chief Joseph; less about his attempts to return to the Wallowa Homeland at War’s end.


There was a time when Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce was the most famous and (mostly) admired Indian in the land.
At the surrender at Bear’s Paw, after the siege and forty miles short of the Canadian border and Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph and his remnant band of Nez Perce and allies
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