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

Canoe notes #1

A couple of years ago Allen Pinkham Jr. was here at the Josephy Center teaching beading and drum building. At the end of his stay, he said that “We Nez Perce were canoe people. I think I’d like to come back here and build a dugout canoe.”

It’s taken patience and the work of many, but Allen is now fully embarked on building his first canoe—as far as we can figure, the first Nez Perce dugout canoe built in over 100 years.  Allen’s father, Allen Sr., came and checked the rings on the log to determine top and bottom, and told all the canoe stories he had in his very active memory bank. Local logger Jim Zacharias has helped with logs and making a first rough cut on the first log. Josephy Center board member Tim Norman (who happens to be a pretty darned good sculptor) came with tools and a good backswing to help hollow the log.  Bob Chenoweth,
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So the President lied?

Which president, which time?

President Ulysses S. Grant

Indian trails of tears are littered with Presidential lies. We could pick almost any one, but why not take the hero of the Civil War and the man on the $50 bill. He had some interesting dealings with the Nez Perce, so I am somewhat familiar with President Grant’s “Peace Policy” and stated attempts to do better by Indians than had his predecessors.

The Nez Perce had signed a treaty with the nation in 1855 that left them much of their traditional homeland, including the Wallowa Country. In 1863, gold was found on that reservation in Idaho, so the government negotiated a new treaty, centered in Lapwai, Idaho, which reduced the size of the reservation by about 90 percent. Old Joseph and the chiefs of several other Nez Perce bands did not sign, and Joseph went back to the Wallowas, where no gold had been discovered, and where he was briefly left Read The Article

Canoe People

A year ago, Allen Pinkham Jr. worked for a few weeks as an artist in residence at the Josephy Center. He beaded and made drums and taught workshops in beading and drum-making. At the end of his stay, Allen said that he’d enjoyed himself, and that he would like to come back—and he had an idea.  “We were canoe people. I’d like to come back and build a Nez Perce dugout canoe.” We’ve been working with Allen and aim to help him do that this year.

Nez Perce Canoe–photo by E.S. Curtis c. 1910

It turns out that there are only a handful of Nez Perce dugout canoes in existence. The Nez Perce National Historical Park has four of them, so I went and looked at them, and talked with Park curator Bob Chenowith, who has studied them and written about them.  And with help from the US Forest Service, Nez Perce National Historic Trail, we are on the road Read The Article

Nez Perce Return

Few Indians live in the Wallowa Country now, but Indians come here every year—maybe, even through war and exile, some few have always made their ways here to hunt and gather foods and be in this place. Now, they come to run Nez Perce Fisheries, to manage a small piece of Precious Land in the canyons, and in the summer for dances and parades. And there is a 320-acre place we call the Nez Perce Homeland Project near the town of Wallowa.

Tamkaliks, Nez Perce Homeland, 2016

Last Sunday, Nez Perce peoples from Colville, Umatilla, and Lapwai—Washington, Oregon, and Idaho—drummed, sang, and danced in the new Long House at that Nez Perce Homeland grounds. Most were descendants of the Joseph, or Wallowa, band of Nez Perce who made this country home for thousands of years before being forcibly removed in 1877.

The drumming and singing seemed louder and the dancing more spirited than I remember from past years, when services Read The Article

Life on Joseph Creek

Joseph Canyon USFS photo

Alvin Josephy talked about Indians’ relationship to land, and how, from the get-go, Europeans did not understand it. Europeans saw land as an economic resource, not just a “home” place to live on and live with.  In fact, the Book of Genesis in pocket and mind, Christian Europeans thought themselves lords and masters of the land, with Biblically ordained dominion over it and all of its non-human inhabitants.

After a long slog through feudalism, during which most Europeans worked the land to the benefit of a ruling class, Euro-Americans saw opportunities to be their own lords and masters. A few years of indentured servitude and then Indian lands theirs for the taking. Thomas Jefferson legitimized it, promoting the idea of a nation of self-sustaining small landholders, free men who would forward humanity’s march towards democracy.

No one paid much attention to Indians’ relationships to land—except to take it. Well, Europeans did pick up the many crops Read The Article

Another painting/statue/book of Chief Joseph?

Fouch photo of Joseph in Bismarck 1877

This week a sculptor who is having bronze work done at the local foundry came into the library looking for pictures of Chief Joseph. He has it in mind to do a bronze of a young Chief Joseph on a horse. He’d seen a picture of a Nez Perce—not Joseph—on a horse that had inspired him, and had seen photos of Joseph as an older man. He wanted pictures of hairstyles and clothing that might help him portray a younger Joseph.

We found his horse photo online, and when he mentioned the Nez Perce and Appaloosas, I pointed out the lack of spots on this photo. And sent him away with the Harry and Grace Bartlett and Alvin Josephy material from the New York Brand Book magazine of 1967. I also suggested a couple of books he might read.

We have two statues of Young Chief Joseph in Wallowa County, both done by Read The Article

A Longhouse in the Wallowas

We’ve been talking about building a Longhouse on the grounds of the Nez Perce Homeland Project (Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center, Inc. is the official name of the organization) outside the town of Wallowa for many years. I can’t remember exactly how many.

For those of you who get these blog posts and do not know about this project, a very brief intro: In the spring of 1877, Young Chief Joseph led the Wallowa, or Wal-lam-wat-kain band of Nez Perce Indians out of their homeland, across the Snake River, intending to join other bands on a reduced reservation in Idaho. Conflict erupted, the Nez Perce War ensued, and after years of exile in Leavenworth and Indian Territory, the Indians returned to the Northwest, but not to the Wallowas.

About 1993, as the big celebration of the Oregon Trail’s 150th anniversary got underway, a group of local people and tribal members from Lapwai, Nespelem, and Umatilla got together and Read The Article

The land owns the Paiutes

Yesterday, amid the blur of news stories from Burns and John Day about the confrontation between occupiers and law enforcement in this latest chapter of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation, there was an NPR story from Nevada. A reporter and a Paiute tribal member were traveling the BLM ground once leased to Cliven Bundy but now, and for several years, not leased but still grazed by Bundy’s cattle. (Cliven’s sons were leaders in the Malheur occupation and among those arrested.)

The story from Nevada was one of fear and garbage—rangeland and fences left untended, BLM employees absent, and, in other places in Nevada, traveling in pairs with safety concerns. The thing that struck me hardest was when the radio team visited an ancient pictograph shattered by bullets from someone who did not care that they were ancient and sacred to Indians. In Oregon, Ammon Bundy was expressing similar distain for the past, saying that the grazing value on the Malheur Read The Article

Another Nez Perce Book

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

Celebrating the Nez Perce

A few hundred Nez Perce Indians called this Valley home for thousands of years. They called themselves Nimipu (“the people”) and identified with this place, their families, their band and its headmen (Young Joseph, Old Joseph, Wal-lam-wat-kain, and on and on) more than any larger tribal group. European horses and diseases got here before Europeans did, and then the fur traders, who probably had seen a couple of Indians in buffalo country with dentalia they had traded for at Celilo through their nostrums, and put the Nez Perce name on them. This all before 1805 and Lewis and Clark. The fur men, migrants themselves, many from France and Scotland, trapped, traded, traveled and married with Indians. They had posts in Spokane and made it to the Pacific just five or six years after the Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery.  Historian Grace Bartlett says there were a couple of Frenchmen living in the Wallowa Valley with Indian wives when the Read The Article

Alvin Josephy, the Listening Man

Gordie High Eagle, Millie Zollman, Albert Barros 

On Sunday at the Josephy Center we honored Alvin with Nez Perce drums and talk and a new exhibit highlighting some of the milestones in his life. This all followed the opening of a splendid Nez Perce Art Show. The show, mounted in celebration of the Nez Perce National Historical Park’s Fiftieth Anniversary, features art that tribal members make for each other—the buckskin shirt, cornhusk bag, moccasins, beaded horse regalia and headdresses worn for ceremony and parade. It’s here for June, then goes to the History Center in Lewiston, Idaho.

The Josephy exhibit stays put!

And, it seems to me, the story it tells—and the honoring of him on Sunday made this explicit—is that Alvin Josephy was a “listener.”

Bobbie Conner, the director of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation, spoke emotionally about conversations between her grandfather and Alvin in the 50s and 60s. Alvin, she said, listened to Indians, and Read The Article

Nez Perce Park turns 50; Alvin Josephy 100

Beadwork byAllen Pinkham, Jr.
The Nez Perce National Historical Park celebrates 50 years this summer, which also marks the centenary of Alvin Josephy’s birth.  Josephy, who passed away in 2005, wrote The Nez Perce and the Opening of the Northwestand is the namesake of the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture and the Josephy Library—which is my gig. As part of the Park’s anniversary celebration, the Center is honored to host “Nuunimnix” a Native American Art Exhibit, which opens this Saturday, May 30 at 3 p.m. This will be followed by a Sunday celebration for Alvin, a “birthday party” for the historian and friend of the Nez Perce people. This one is at 4 p.m. May 31.
The Nez Perce art is not commercial, but “gift art,” the things tribal artists and craftspeople have made for each other. The Nez Perce Park, for those not familiar with it, is unique among national parks because the land is
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Chief Joseph–Idaho Governor Otter is wrong!

Idaho Governor Butch Otter is dead wrong in quibbling over Chief Joseph’s ties to Oregon and Idaho and questioning Oregonians’ choice of him for a Washington D.C. monument.

Joseph was the leader of a band of Nez Perce Indians that lived for millennia in the valleys and canyons of the Wallowa Country in what is now Northeast Oregon. In 1855, Old Joseph, the father of the chief who became a national figure during and after the War of 1877, along with leaders of many bands of Nez Perce and other plateau tribes, went to Isaac Stevens’ Walla Walla Treaty Council, where Joseph and most Nez Perce band leaders signed the Nez Perce Treaty of 1855. He returned peacefully to the Wallowa homeland, which was included in its boundaries.

The Nez Perce fared well in that first treaty, being the only tribe not to be “confederated” with neighboring tribes, and retaining a substantial amount of land that stretched from the Wallowas Read The Article

What I forgot to say!

So last week I gave a little talk at the Hells Canyon Preservation Council’s Portland fundraising event on the Nez Perce in the Wallowa Country. Board Chair Pete Sandrock told me I had 30 minutes—and that he was a tough timekeeper!

There is no way to summarize the Nez Perce story in a half hour, so the job was to pick out some high points and connect them well enough so that newcomers to the subject would get something to whet appetites, and people with some knowledge of the business might get something new.
On the way home I kept thinking of high points I’d missed—and determined to send a message out apologizing and righting my wrongs. Alas, a week has gone by, and many of the “urgent” corrections have faded, but there are still a couple….
Alvin Josephy at war
Number one, I meant to mention how important I think Alvin Josephy’s wartime experience as a journalist in the
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The Nez Perce and the Columbian Exchange

In preparation for my Portland presentation on the Nez Perce in the Wallowa Country tomorrow night, and thinking about this ecosystems/ Pacific NW tribes class I am teaching in La Grande, I got to wondering about which elements of Alfred Crosby’s Columbian Exchange had the greatest impact on the Nez Perce.

The first one that comes to mind is the horse, because the Nez Perce became noted for their horse breeding and horsemanship. But they probably didn’t get the horse until the early 1700s, over 200 years after Columbus and his crew landed with them in the Caribbean. Late in the history of a people that had been here forever.
It was diseases, and specifically smallpox, that got Crosby to thinking about what all had crossed the ocean and united the two worlds so long divided. And the impact of diseases that the Europeans had developed some immunities to over centuries on indigenous Americans was in all ways catastrophic. In
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Fire–and arrogance

We’re engulfed in smoke in the Wallowa Valley, more smoke than I can remember in my forty plus years living here. I think there have been bigger fires—Freezeout and the Canal Fire come to mind, but there seem to be fires on all sides of us now: fires in the Imnaha country, up Hurricane Creek and the Minam, and some further west and north. Smoke made the super moon more beautiful last night—and the mountains were just a fuzzy outline over gray. This morning we awoke to smoke.
At the fair this week I heard someone say that they should have been able to put out the Hurricane Creek fire when it was five acres, what with helicopters and hand crews. I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t know the particulars of that fire, but I have been up Hurricane Creek enough to know how convoluted and wild the place is. Have climbed over sprawling debris left by wind and
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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
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History counts


It’s an old saw—you learn by teaching. This fall I am teaching a class for the Oregon State University Ag program on the Eastern Oregon U campus in La Grande. The class is “Ecosystems and Pacific Northwest Tribes.”  We looked briefly at the pre-Columbian Americas and the impacts of contact—the “Columbian Exchange”—and then moved on to the pre-contact Northwest (realizing that such a designation is loaded with post-contact geography), the impacts of the fur trade, missionaries, treaties, and settlers, and finally now, are looking at how the region’s ecosystems are working today.
We read a few chapters of Charles Mann’s 1491, a wonderful essay, “People of the Salmon,” by Richard Daugherty in Josephy’s America in 1492, and bits and pieces on the fur trade, treaties, missionaries, and Oregon tribes. This week our reading was the Klamath chapter from First Oregonians, and our guest speaker was Jeff Oveson, long-time executive
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Early photos of Chief Joseph


Goff photo used by Bartlett

Ann Hayes, the late Grace Bartlett’s daughter, came by with a folder full of photos and clippings from her mother’s papers (which are being cataloged by Shannon Maslach). We were looking for originals –or at least good prints—of photos used in Grace’s small booklet on the Wallowas.  Ann wants to reprint, and we want to improve the quality of the photos.

Among the material was information on some of the early photos of Chief Joseph. The one Grace used in her booklet, which she reproduced “courtesy of Mrs. L.R. Hamblen of Spokane,” is in fact one of the earliest photos of Joseph, and although there was for some time controversy about the photographer, there seems to be general agreement now that it was Orlando Goff.
But there was another bit of information in Grace’s files about another photographer, John Fouch, who had set up a
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