The Last Indian War—Horses and Technology

Elliot West’s “The Last Indian War” was published in 2009, so it has been around. I’d not read it, but it was handy and I needed to check a date or name, so picked it up. And read a page or two. And decided I should read it. Read it because what West does is put the Nez Perce War in context of the Westward movement and US history.

We know that the War parties—Nez Perce and pursuing armies—moved through Yellowstone National Park. Some writers even tell us that it—Yellowstone—was a first, and that tourists were encountered and captured. But West tells us that yes, Yellowstone was the first National Park, and that it “reflected three powerful forces creating and defining the West.”Read Rich’s Post →

A Brief List of Books on Nez Perce History and Culture

I’ve put together lists of books on the Nez Perce several times over the years, but new books keep coming out, sometimes new books with “old” information not covered in previous books. Two wonderful examples in the current list are those edited by Dennis Baird, Diane Mallickan, and W.R. Swagerty, Encounters with the People, and the Nez Perce Nation Divided. Both deal with original written and oral accounts of the people in crucial years leading up to the 1863 “Liar’s Treaty.”

I won’t pretend to be exhaustive, to do a serious and complete bibliography of books on the Nez Perce. We have a dozen more on our library shelves and/or in the sales shop downstairs! Maybe someday.Read Rich’s Post →

October 5; On this day…

October 5, 1877 is the day on which the wal’wá·ma band of the Nez Perce and members of other non-treaty bands lost their freedom. They’d intended to go quietly from the Wallowa to the reduced Idaho reservation, leaving and losing their homeland but continuing to live in nearby country among relatives from other bands. They crossed the Snake River into Idaho in spring runoff, and there the grief-stricken actions of some young Nez Perce in killing Idaho settlers—settlers known for their mistreatment of Indians—set off a fighting retreat of more than 1200 miles. It ended on this day 144 yeasr ago at the Bears Paw mountains in Montana, just 40 miles short of safety in Canada.Read Rich’s Post →

The Longest War(s)

My friend Charlie texted me this morning to remind me that President Biden will announce today that he has ended America’s “longest war.” Charlie says that the Indian wars went on longer, that his people’s war, what we call the Nez Perce War, was one of the last of a continuing string of them, and that the suffering caused by Indian Wars cannot be measured.Read Rich’s Post →

 luk’upsíimey and the Treaties Exhibit

A group of seven Nez Perce artists and writers who call themselves luk’upsíimey—“North Star”– Collective has been together at the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland for the past week, practicing their art, learning and relearning their language together. They are college professors and language teachers, visual artists and wordmakers, from California and Arizona, Philadelphia and Lapwai, who came together in this Wallowa place that echoes their ancient common nimiipuu –Nez Perce–language.Read Rich’s Post →

White Men Writing about Indians

Nez. Perce Reservations: 1855, 1863, 1873

I’ve been writing Josephy Library blog posts for ten years, telling stories of lies, outrages, and omissions regarding Indians in American history. From time to time, I’ve thought I should make a book, comb and clean the posts up a bit, sometimes combine a couple or three of them, write a few new episodes in my own growing understanding of a broader and more inclusive American history.

When I mentioned this to a publisher friend, he told me that Indian stories are indeed in demand, but people want to hear from Indians themselves, not from white interpreters. I stepped back from the book idea, but have continued to post on this blog, and I continue to bring Indians and their stories to the Josephy Center where I work. In fact, we recently put up an exhibit on “Nez Perce Treaties and Reservations From 1855 to Present.”

Read Rich’s Post →

Living on Stolen Ground

Above the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Ground is Bette Lynch Husted’s memoir of growing up on a dirt-poor, white, family farm in Nez Perce Indian country in Idaho. Their meagre plot had once—and long—been Indian country. Nez Perce Reservation lands were reduced by 90 percent from those promised in an 1855 Treaty in an 1863 Treaty. The Allotment Act, which sought to put individual Indians on Individual parcels of land, declared “surplus lands” open to white homesteaders. Whites gobbled up 90 million more acres of Indian land, That, as I recall, was the origin of the Lynch farm.

Read Rich’s Post →

The “Roaming Nez Perce” on a level playing field

Our national founding documents talk about all men being created “equal,” and many see the history of the country as a gradual expansion of “all men” to include black men—14th Amendment, 1868; women—19th Amendment, 1920; and, in 1924, when they were finally given citizenship in the country that had swallowed up their native lands, Indians.

Read Rich’s Post →

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 Rich’s Post →

Isaac Stevens’ Quest for Fame and Glory!


Isaac Stevens is known in the region as the architect of the 1855 treaties that created the Nez Perce, Umatilla, and Yakima reservations. He was Governor of the Washington Territory, which made him the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and, along with his Oregon counterpart, Joel Palmer, the treaty maker on both sides of the Cascades and all the way to present-day Montana.

Stevens was a West Pointer who used his experience with the Army Corps of Engineers, Mexican-American War heroism, and election support for President Pierce to lobby for and win the bid to survey the most northern route for a transcontinental railroad. Congress had commissioned the survey of four routes west, and, I believe, the northern route never had a chance in Congress before Southern secession, but in 1853, when he came West and war was still almost a decade away, Stevens did not know this. And in my recent re-reading of the treaty period and Governor Stevens, I am convinced that the railroad job was the one that he fancied most—because it was the one that meant a national reputation and legacy.
It strikes me in all of this re-reading of history that the quest for fame and glory counted for as much then as the quest for financial fortune or technological innovation does today. And that life expectancy, which was less than 40 when Stevens was born and hovered at about that in mid-century, was one of the drivers that led generals, prospectors, fur traders, and homesteaders to take big risks at young ages in pursuit of it.
For most men, the prospect of early death coupled with fickle climate and frequent hunger, getting a piece of the American pie, rising above the mining camp-cow camp-plantation land struggle and securing a bit of something for sons and daughters was as far as they could see. For women, who died in childbirth in such numbers as will make heads shake now, grasping the straw of a man in pursuit of something better for the next generation was what they had (the women of Butte, Montana watched their husbands die in the mines and wouldn’t let their sons work in them).
For people—mostly men—of some privilege and great ambition, the military offered something more—recognition beyond family and one’s own time. I think Stevens was a part of this—first in his class at West Point, eager and ready to grab the rings that came his way. And think of it, connecting the continent with a railroad when ships were slow and horses slower, would knit the nation and Stevens would be the hero of it. 
Here’s Josephy’s summation of Stevens in his American Heritage essay on the Walla Walla treaty council:

A dynamo of a man, still only thirty-seven years old, Stevens saw all three of his jobs complementing each other toward a single grand end. As a governor who wanted to build up the population and prosperity of the territory, he was intent on winning congressional approval for the railroad route he had charted from St. Paul to Puget Sound. That meant clearing the Indian owners away from the proposed route: buying what part of their land he wanted, tucking the natives away on reservations, and ensuring the safety of the right of way for railroad builders and travelers. At the same time, the Indian cessions would increase the territory’s public domain and make land available for more settlers. Stevens bore no ill will against Indians, and even fancied that he admired and respected them. But as an instrument of advancing American civilization, he had a job to accomplish, and with a flair for publicity, he expected to win notice in the national capital for what he would achieve.

Although his rail route did not win the day, Stevens did go to Congress from Washington—and then went to the Civil War. And this is how it ended (as described in Wikipedia): “He was killed in action at the Battle of Chantilly on September 1, 1862 after picking up the fallen regimental colors of his old regiment, shouting ’Highlanders, my Highlanders, follow your general!’ Charging with his troops while carrying the banner of Saint Andrew’s Cross, Stevens was struck in the temple by a bullet and died instantly.” He was 42 years old.
# # #

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.
# # #

Summer in the Library—brown bag lunches, art books, OHQs, and a student intern!


We’re doing brown bag lunches on Tuesdays this summer, so if you are in Joseph at noon on a Tuesday, please stop in and join the conversation.  Next week—May 28—we will be talking about Indian treaties, especially the Nez Perce treaties of 1855 and 1863 and the aborted attempt by President Grant to change or rescind the 1863 version.
This week we talked about art—specifically the paintings and drawings by Europeans of American Indians. Mike Rosenbaum, who drove up from La Grande to join us, brought along a few gorgeous art books featuring George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, Paul Kane and others. And on leaving Mike decided that the books should stay here!  So a big thanks to him, and an invitation to everyone to take these books down from the shelves and take a look at how early Europeans saw the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Two things have struck me about these European views over months of looking at Josephy books and articles:  First, the “first meetings,” in almost all cases, of Europeans and First Peoples (a term used in Canada and one I like) were almost always friendly, and the Europeans often commented on the good qualities, looks, and helpfulness of their hosts. Second, the early drawings and paintings almost always portray the Indians as handsome people, robust and muscular—and often with little clothing so as to accentuate these qualities. I put this together with the state of things in Europe at the time—still in a little ice age, suffering from drought and famine—and have said that the Indians must have looked like gods to the immigrants. At least the ones who escaped smallpox and measles and other infectious diseases. And from there I go to Rousseau and the romantic view of Indians.
But local artist Mike Kolaski joined the conversation, and offered another view. He suggested that we look at what Europeans were painting in Europe at the time—much of the 1600s, and thought that the first art work in the new world reflected the contemporary art work in the old. And, as time moved on and other artists—Bodmer, Catlin, et al—came to the new world or grew up on this side of the pond looking across the sea, the art work became less romantic and more ruggedly realistic, as it was in Europe at the time.
Thanks Mike. Both views, I think, are consistent with what Alvin called the “Eurocentric” treatment of first peoples. It is good to have more ways to think about the same set of images and events. And now we have Alvin’s books and words and the new books donated by Mike Rosenbaum for reference.
Quickly, a couple of additional notes on collections and summer. We got a nice slug of old—1920s-40s—Oregon Historical Quarterly from the Harney County Library, so we are on our way to a full run of that fine journal. We have an index for 1900-1940, and Google has yet to catch up with everything, so come and explore. 
Volunteer Bruce Stubblefield has organized our collection of Idaho Yesterdays, and made a short index of articles related to the Nez Perce, so more fertile ground for exploration.  Throw in long runs of Montana History, Journal of the West, American West, Kansas Quarterly, and journals from Minnesota, Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada, Missouri, and a handful of other states and it is easy to spend an afternoon checking out old –photos and the detailed kind of research carried on by the historians who kept the West alive, while the writers of textbook histories often ignored it. 
Finally, I want to welcome Erik Anderson, a student from Whitman College in nearby Walla Walla, who will be joining us in a few days as a summer intern. He’ll get to pick some of his projects, but cataloging books and putting these historical journals into a data base you can use will be a big part of it.
Finally finally—we are not a circulating library, but we do have extra copies of some Josephy material which we are loaning out, and we are happy to make copies of other materials and get them to you by mail or email. Loaner copies of 500 Nations, The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, 1492, many of the American Heritage hardback magazines with Josephy articles  can be checked out for two week periods.