How much was a beaver pelt worth?

We know now that the fur trade in North America began in the 1500s with English, and French and Spanish Basque, fishermen off the Atlantic coast. When the fish weren’t enough—or when economies suggested—the fishermen went ashore and took and traded for beaver pelts and other animal hides, and Indian slaves. (That’s how Squanto got to Europe, learned English, and returned to become a translator for the New England colonists.) Read The Article

Salmon and Beaver; Politics and Biology

President-elect Trump’s promise to promote coal mining and open more public lands for development of natural gas and oil is not new politics. And the Indian-centered and inspired movement to stop the Dakota Access pipeline is not the first fight by Native Americans against the Euro-American drive to exploit natural resources.

I thought about this as Nez Perce Fisheries workers joined my class (AG 301- ECOSYSTEM SCIENCE OF PACIFIC NW INDIANS) in La Grande last week to talk about salmon and treaties. They explained that the beaver and salmon had developed an intricate symbiotic relationship that had been totally interrupted by the extermination of the beaver almost 200 years ago.

They knew the biology; I could fill them in on the history.

The biology: a series of beaver dams forms perfect habitat for salmon, providing pools for growth and rest, avenues for running up river, and spurts of fast water from the dams’ depths to flush smolts downriver.  Beaver dams Read The Article

The passing of two friends

There is so much to say about my friend Ray Cook, the man who introduced me to Rupert Costo, the Jesuits, and Father Serra’s journey to sainthood. Ray passed away quietly in California, and, unfortunately, did not see the blog post he inspired—I think it would have made him smile, though the new Pope’s ignorance of California’s Indian genocide would only have disturbed him. Rest in Peace Ray. I am sure that the Indian woman you had to move to make way for a California highway long ago has forgiven you—and if not you built up a store of good deeds and left teachings on behalf of her brothers and sisters in your remaining years.

Ray reminded us that the peculiar relationship of Indians to land is fundamentally different from the notion that land is an “input” into economic equations, a “commodity” to be bought and sold. Being “of” the land is qualitatively different than being “from” a nation, state, Read The Article

Finding Rupert’s Land

Marc Jaffe and I have been editing away on a book of Alvin Josephy’s writings for over a year. Our goal is to let Alvin show readers how Indians are intricately woven into the fabric of American history—they are not a “sideshow”; to explore Alvin’s explorations of Indians and natural resources; and to present a brief forum on the miracle of Indian survival.

The essays—some chapters from books; some magazine articles—are chosen, and introductions to sections by contemporary Indian thinkers who knew Alvin are done. We have a few illustrations, and the intention to use a couple of maps.
One of the essays is “The Hudson’s Bay Company and the American Indian.” Alvin argued that the Company and the fur trade overall had a lot to do with how America and American-Indian relations evolved. Our editor liked this, and thought it would be good to have a map to help people visualize just how extensive the fur trade—and specifically the
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The Whitman Massacre—a Truer History


Some days I just want to shout at Alvin—Is this what you meant?
After a few years wrestling with his writing and remembered conversations, poking through the books and journals he left to the Josephy Library—the Oregon Historical Quarterlies are gold mines!—and reading “new” historians Crosby and Mann, I might be getting a grasp on what Alvin meant by “leaving the Indians out of American History.”
They are, Alvin said, always a “sideshow,” helpers and combatants in first European colonization of the “new” (to Europeans) world, allies and enemies in early confrontations with British settlers, obstacles to be overcome on the path to settling the North American Continent, and always, by some Euro-Americans, people to be looked after, cared for as children on their way to civilization as their own cultures naturally vanished. Indians have rarely been treated as primary actors in the historical narrative, agents on their own behalf and/or cooperators
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Thomas King, G.A. Custer, Lois Riel, David Thompson…..


Years and years ago, novelist Thomas King came to Fishtrap. Alvin Josephy had met him at a Sun Valley conference and recommended him as a reader and conversationalist. 
King ran for office in Guelph
King, tall, handsome, wearing a good white Stetson as I recall, lived up to promise, and two of his novels, Medicine Riverand Green Grass Running Water, remain personal favorites. I kept meaning to invite him back to Fishtrap—but he kept getting further away, going from the University of Minnesota to the University of Guelph, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, where he is a professor of English today. He also has a radio show, “The Dead Dog Cafe Hour,” on CBC, and has written extensively on Indian issues on both sides of the border.
King was born in California, and his ancestors were Cherokee, Greek, and German, but he has managed to absorb Indian history and culture
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More on Nez Perce gardens and fur traders


I argued against missionary Spalding as the original source of Wallowa Nez Perce gardens in my last blog post, went on a laborious journey through Spokane House, Spokane Garry, the Church of England, and the fur trade as alternative sources of seeds and irrigation techniques. And then got onto the thought that this all happened with people and players—Hudson’s Bay, the North West Fur Company, David Thompson—who end up being on the Canadian side of history, so do not get attention in standard USA history books.

I think that last line is quite true, but my circuitous argument about Spokane Garry and his time at the Red River School under the Anglicans probably was too much. Friend and long-time historian of the fur trade John Jackson—Children of the Fur Trade—made it all simpler in a brief response to my post:

“The curmudgeon can’t resist pointing out that the early Nor’westers
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Nez Perce farmers, missionary squabbles, and the Canadian Border


“Before leaving the southern portion of the Asotin County some mention should be made of the
Indian gardens located on the north side of the Grande Ronde River about half a miles below
the mouth of the Rattlesnake Creek and on other favored spots extending on down the Grande
Ronde to the mouth of Shoemaker Creek, on low benches along the river.
“It appears that Nez Perce Indians maintained gardens in these places before white men came
to the country, and made use of irrigation in growing corn and other vegetables.
“As there appears to be no record or tradition of the growing of vegetables by the Nez Perce
Indians prior to the coming of missionary Spalding, it is safe to assume that the Indians who
maintained these gardens in the early days learned their lessons in agriculture and irrigation
from Rev. Spalding.”
I found this quote from Historic Glimpses of Asotin
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Fear of Indians


I keep trying to write about “assimilation,” because I know that Alvin considered it—the ways in which the white power structure has “zigzagged,” as he put it, with policies and actions aimed at “making Indians stop being Indians and turn themselves into Whites”—crucial to understanding the history of America. But I keep finding gems of understanding that seem to precede the concepts of assimilation, and extermination for that matter.

And this week it is fear, and not physical fear of Indians, though I am sure that those scrawny Dutchmen and Englishmen who came ashore on the Atlantic  Coast  in the early 1600s had some of that kind of fear and trepidation, but a deeper kind of fear. Alvin described it in a speech on “Fisheries and Native American Rights” given at the University of Michigan in April of 1979, and later published in The Indian Historian, Vol. 12, No. 2,
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A different Oregon history


We don’t know how things will turn out in Egypt, Libya, or Syria, don’t know where the Arab Spring will take the people who are in the midst of it, or, for that matter, what impacts it will have on us, living thousands of miles away but connected by war, trade, and the long threads of family and friendship.  At the same time, we assume an inevitability in our own national history, which we are taught to see as a series of iconic events marshaled and mastered by iconic men—yes, mostly men. 
Our textbooks start with Columbus and give us Washington, Jefferson, Lewis and Clark; Lincoln, Grant, and Lee; Carnegie and Rockefeller; the Roosevelts, Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. There is “discovery,” then pilgrims, frontiersmen, and the Revolutionary War; The Oregon Trail, The Civil War, Manifest Destiny, the Great Depression, “world” wars, etc. etc. etc.
Our friend Alvin Josephy spent a
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Beaver hats

Sometimes you read something or hear something or something happens that changes how you look at the world. For me, reading Charles Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, and thinking about world history in terms of the “Columbian Exchange” did that. For the first time, I connected the fact that potatoes originated in the Andes—that I had picked up somewhere along the line, with the potato famine in Ireland and the potato lefse that my grandmother made every holiday. That the Americas were vibrant places full of humanity and human influenced landscapes before the Pilgrims settled Plymouth suddenly became obvious—how did the corn, beans, and pumpkins get to the far north anyway?
How I wish I could have talked with Alvin about Charles Mann. Better yet, how good it would have been to put them together. That is kind of what we did in our class this Wednesday
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Blinded by the times

When he wrote the essay on the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Indians, Alvin Josephy took great pains to place it all in historical context. And he credited the company with high mindedness in establishing standards for dealing with the Indians—the traders were not to use alcohol as trade goods, not to marry Indian women, and were to build peaceful relationships with them and promote peace among the tribes. Measured against French, American, and other British traders, Josephy gives the HBC good marks.

“Nevertheless,” says Josephy, “the relations between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the American Indians can be seen fairly and truly only from a perspective that recognizes the imperialistic dynamics of the company during its fur trade heyday [1670-1870]…” The lynchpin of those dynamics was the doctrine of discovery, a notion of sovereignty developed by the Catholic Church and European governments which assumed that Europe and European culture and religion were superior to all indigenous peoples and cultures
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The Hudson’s Bay Company and the Indians

I just read “The Hudson Bay Company and the American Indians,” a three-part series Alvin originally published in 1971 in The Westerners: New York Posse BrandBook (I love the Westerners! See November 2010 post) that was reprinted with color photography as “By Fayre and Gentle Meanes,” in American West Magazine.

Fayre and gentle was how the Hudson’s Bay company men were supposed to treat, or “Draw downe the Indians” to their purpose. Their purpose was the acquisition of furs. Alvin says that the company did not come to “conquer or dispossess the Indians. It did not covet their land, hunting grounds, or fishing stations. It did not mean to disrupt them or undermine their beliefs, destroy their means of existence, shatter their organizations and ways of life, or change them into white men… It was a commercial enterprise, in business to make a profit by buying furs peacefully from the natives at prices that would bring the highest Read The Article