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.

More on Missionaries–and on Catholic and Protestant “Ladders”

For whatever reason—maybe the wonderful cover photo—I have kept the Spring 1996 issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly by my bed, and pick it up from time to time to look at the fine drawings and paintings of Father Nicolas Point, and to follow those first Jesuits on their 1840 journey to Flathead country in Montana—and their departure in admitted failure just ten years later.
Elizabeth White writes of their early contact and early successes, which she attributes to the similarities between Catholicism and traditional Indian culture: oral liturgy, sacred wine and pipe, sweat lodge and church. The mission’s ultimate failure had to do with deeper life views—the Indian belief that man is part of nature and the Christian/European stories of/beliefs in serpents and other evils lurking in nature. The notion that Christian powers could not be added to traditional powers of nature and native spirit but must supplant them was also puzzling  to the Indians. Finally, the reverends’ attempt to bring the Blackfeet into their fold was too much for the Flatheads, and these first European missionaries gave up and moved on.
Catholic Ladder

Last night I read for the first time the last essay in the issue, a piece on “Catholic Ladders” by Kris White and Janice St. Laurent. These Ladders were teaching tools, originally of wood with four sides which could be carved or painted with symbols of Christianity. Sun, moon, stars, angels, the story of creation, Adam and Eve, the years of Christ and the decades of human history, the temple of Solomon, the Ten Commandments, were represented symbolically and figuratively in visual shorthand for the words and stories of the Bible. Eventually, the Ladders were put on paper in increasingly large layouts with more ornate depictions of the sources and lessons of Christianity.

This, it seems to me, was a brilliant strategy. The visual mnemonics of the ladders were a short step from the knotted ropes (called Quipuin some texts) that many tribal people used to keep track of seasons, time, and significant events in tribal life. They could be shown to a crowd, touched and moved easily from meeting to meeting, village to village.
Spalding “Protestant” Ladder

There is a picture of the only known “Protestant Ladder,” which was designed by Henry Spalding and drawn by his wife, Eliza. It was two feet wide and stretched six feet, and was colorfully painted. The Spaldings were of course the first missionaries to the Nez Perce. The note on Eliza’s drawing and remembering that Old Joseph’s daughter, the one who married white trapper Joseph Gale, took the Christian name Eliza caused me to look for more about one of the first two white women to travel the Oregon Trail (the other being Narcissa Whitman).

Eliza was as committed to the mission movement as was her husband, and she proved to be a natural teacher.  Her school at Lapwai was, I read, “different than many of the other missionary schools in the west.  She did not require her pupils to bathe, dress in ‘white’ clothing, or cut their hair.  In addition, she taught in both English and the Nez Perce language.” How common sense and practical; no wonder she was more popular with the Nez Perce than was her preacher husband!
Eliza becomes a more interesting character when we learn that she had some doubts about her faith after the massacre of the Whitmans. But she did go on to teach and administer other schools in the Willamette Valley. It makes one a little sad that she died young, at 44. Maybe her impact on mission schools would have been greater and their worst abuses diminished had she had another 20or 30 years to work on it.
That is speculation of course. But one piece of information from that Oregon Historical Quarterly is not. While one Catholic Ladder in the text prominently features the beginnings of the Church, Eliza’s (and Henry’s) Protestant Ladder depicts the pope tumbling off into the fires of hell. Whatever difficulties the Catholic and Protestant missionaries had among the Indians did not keep them from feuding with each other!
NOTE: for info on the Spalding Protestant Ladder, go to:
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Browsing and Black Robes

Father Pierre-Jean De Smet
One of the great pleasures of being in a library (or a bookstore, where I spent a dozen wonderful years) is browsing. Your eyes scan shelves not with anything particular in mind, but with a lifetime of general interests and a number of current curiosities. A book—or journal or magazine—jumps at you with its shape, color, title, or the image on its cover. You pick it up and, almost unconsciously, look at front and back and open or don’t open and put it back or stick to it a bit longer—sometimes you keep reading. Interests and curiosities are strengthened and changed as you browse, and off you go again, maybe this time searching specifically for a title or subject matter. 
Add continuous reading of Josephy texts and you have my current life at the Josephy Library! This week it was the cover of the Spring 1996 Oregon Historical Quarterly with a photo of Father Pierre-Jean De Smet and a number of long haired Indian men, and the announcement of articles on “Catholic Missionizing in the West.” So I was soon reading about the Black Robes in Montana in 1841, about a Jesuit mission that lasted just a decade and collapsed amid cultural misunderstandings—the Indians quest to learn and incorporate Christian teachings; the Jesuits insistence on conversion and replacement of traditional beliefs and ritual—about  the missionaries, traders, and Indians who were part of the drama. And I was marveling at the illustrations of Father Nicolas Point.
Point and his art work, De Smet and his travels—he made 19 trips across the seas raising funds for his missions! The Iroquois Catholics, the relationships between Catholic and Protestant missions, President Grant’s effort to administer Indian agencies with missions; I have a bundle of new topics in my bucket of things to browse and learn.
I sometimes imagine grouping books and specific journals in the Library by Josephy interest areas: fur trade, Civil War, Mormons, treaties, transportation routes, expedition artists and art work, and the ideas of white superiority, Eurocentrism, discovery, nature, progress, etc. etc. etc. Alvin’s curiosities were many, and my browsing is now constrained and strengthened by a growing familiarity with them.
Maybe some of you out there—historians and poets, followers of Indian affairs and Western themes, have similar or related curiosities, and, in your browsing have found the book or article that brought clarity—or inspired further curiosities. Please tell us—and consider our new Library another shelf for your own browsing.  I’m happy to keep my eye out for the topics that occupy your mind, to do a little research by browsing on your behalf. And of course welcome everyone to come into the Library when you are in town and have the pleasure yourself.
notes: The OHQ is Vol. 97. No. 1; and a portfolio of Nicolas Point art work is available at
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