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 The Article

The Second Great Awakening and the Missionaries



For the past several months one of my curiosities has been the early Christian missionaries in the Oregon Territory. Who were they? When and how did they come? What did they bring with them and what did they do on arrival? How did they get along with each other? Why Oregon?

Summer intern Erik and I had some good times discovering obscure references, learning about the spats among denominations, and wondering what possessed sane people, mostly living in New England, to forsake all to preach the Gospel to the Indians.

It looks like it traces back to the “Second Great Awakening,” a period of religious fervor, primarily in New England, but extending to Europe as well, that gave us Jonathan Edwards and “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and Joseph Smith and the Mormon religion. Jason Lee was caught up in it, and raised funds and fervor for Oregon. The Read The Article

Indian Gardens—one more time!


Ok, I should have thought this whole thing through before launching food travel theories. Josephy reminded us years ago, in Indian Heritage of America, 1492 and other places, that about half of present world food crops originated in the Western hemisphere: corn, beans, manioc, chocolate, tobacco—well, food and medicinal/drug crops. And we all know from fourth grade Thanksgiving programs that corn—Mesoamerican corn—had arrived in New England long before the English!
Diorama of Iroquois Indians tending maize caption, New York State Museum

But it is also true that Indians of what is now the Pacific Northwest were traditionally hunters, gatherers, and fishers, and most of these crops were not found in the region at the time of first white contact, Indians of the region had established economies and food cultures over countless generations before white contact, food cultures built around salmon, game, and readily available roots, bulbs, and berries. Did they have knowledge Read The Article