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 The Article
The recent Nez Perce reacquisition of 148 acres near the town of Joseph was a big event. Scores of walkers and riders with their horses gathered at the school on the hill on one side of Joseph, and made the journey through town and onto the airport road to the place just west of the city they now call Am’sáaxpa, or “place of boulders.” Drummers and singers in a “long tent”—a longhouse—prayed, sang, and spoke to scores of tribal people and local supporters, and reporters. Read The Article
I’ve written before about how Indians, and especially the Nez Perce exiles on the Colville Reservation, used the holiday as a day to bring out drums, regalia, and songs that had been suppressed in the 1880s rush to assimilation. In an exhibit two years ago on “Nez Perce Music,” we used images from a 1903 Fourth of July Celebration on the Coville Reservation in Washington. There were photos of drummers and dancers, but when I asked elder Albert Andrews Redstar to comment on the event, he focused on the photo of a horse procession. It seems to me that this photo and his words are an appropriate way to remember that “Independence Day” does not celebrate or remember “independence” for all of us. Read The Article
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
Oregon Public Radio’s Dave Miller interviewed Daniel Sharfstein, author of the latest Nez Perce book, Thunder in the Mountains, yesterday on his “Think-Out-Loud” program. That came right on the heels of my reading David Osborne’s just released novel, The Coming, which is the Nez Perce story with William Clark’s Nez Perce son at its center.
|Daytime Smoke, William Clark’s Nez Perce son|
We know, by the way, that a Nez Perce woman bore Clark a son, Halaftooki (Daytime Smoke), and that he became a tribal elder who hoped his mixed heritage would insulate him from growing conflicts between Indians and white miners and settlers. When conflict broke out, however, he joined the non-treaties, and, as far as I know, died in captivity. Osborne’s book is a fine retelling of that story, with fictional characters and events scattered among the real ones to get Daytime Smoke from birth through the War.
But I digress. This new book, according to Read The Article
William Vollman’s new novel, The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War, is getting rave reviews. I have it, have glanced at the first few pages and looked at the extended notes and acknowledgements—and hoisted the 1350 page and what must be five-pound volume—but have not begun reading it. I am waiting for a five or six hour piece of time to take the plunge—seeing it and reading reviews having convinced me that I cannot do it justice or give myself an honest go at it in bedtime snatches.
But I have been thinking about it, and thinking about how the Nez Perce story captured Alvin Josephy 65 years ago and continues to capture writers and readers 138 years after the Nez Perce War put it on the front pages of New York newspapers. So this is a quick—pre-Vollman book-read—meditation on the enduring and captivating nature of the Nez Perce Story.
1. The Nez Perce came to national Read The Article
Grace Bartlett left Reed College in 1932 to marry a Wallowa Country rancher. She worked on the ranch, raised children, and apprenticed with Harley Horner, the unofficial county historian at the time. With Horner and on her own, she wrote for the Oregon Historical Quarterly, the Wallowa County Chieftain, the Walla Walla Union Bulletin, and once, on the sockeye salmon, for Sunset Magazine.
When Alvin’s big Nez Perce book came out, Grace quibbled with his descriptions of early people and events in the Wallowas. Alvin told her to “write it,” and she did. In the wonderful and, I am beginning to believe, unique, The Wallowa Country 1867-1877, published in 1976, 11 years after The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, Grace detailed the 10-year transition of the Wallowa Country from Indian to white occupation.
We learn about the early “open” winter (much like this one) when the whites first brought stock into the Read The Article