Paddling Upstream

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 Read The Article

The Custer Myth and Henry Luce

The July 2, 1971 issue of Life Magazine carried a story by Alvin Josephy called “The Custer Myth.”  In the late 1960s, during the filming of “Little Big Man,” for which Alvin was a technical advisor, he took some Indian friends to see the Custer Battlefield, While they looked at exhibits, the government “interpreters” went on about the battle, calling the Indians “savages,” and even intimating that some kind of plot to discredit the American military was sweeping the country (this was during the Vietnam War). 
The Indians became increasingly uncomfortable, muttering that “Crazy Horse was no savage, he was a great man.”  Alvin goes on to quote a Nez Perce friend about the importance of Custer to all American Indians:
“The white man’s knowledge of Indians is based on  stereotypes and false, prejudiced history. Custer is the best known hero of that myth to the whites. Therefore, to every Indian in the country, it is the biggest and most
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Alvin, Henry Luce, and their times

“You don’t know what it was like to work for Henry Luce!” Alvin blurted, and ran from the room to fetch an old folder. Alvin, Betty, daughter Allison and I were in the Josephy family living room in Greenwich, looking at home movies which had been transferred to a VCR tape. The scene was Mexico in the mid fifties. The kids—teenager Diane and the younger Alvin, Allison, and Kathy—were cavorting for the camera in and around a gorgeous swimming pool. The camera occasionally switched to a pipe smoking Alvin, wearing a bathing suit, hunched over a typewriter set on a small table at the edge of the pool.

I knew that Alvin had been working for Time Magazine when he found the Nez Perce story, that he had been waiting in Los Angeles to go to Utah to do a story on that state when a telegram from Henry Luce, whose flight had been forced down in Boise, advised him Read The Article