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

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 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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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
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Guest blogger–Summer Intern Erik Anderson


Guest blogger today is Erik Anderson, our Josephy Library Summer Intern from Whitman College in nearby Walla Walla, Washington. For those of you out of the area–not in the “Inland Northwest,” Walla Walla was the place where Marcus and Narcissa Whitman established their mission in 1836, the site of the Whitman Massacre in 1847, and of Governor Isaac Stevens’ treaty making in 1855. Walla Walla, Washington is about a two hour drive over the Blue Mountains from Joseph, Oregon, and Whitman College is a fine institution with its own great archival treasures relating to the history of the West–Indian, non-Indian, and the more inclusive histories of the region. 

Take it away, Erik!
“Interpretations of the phrase ‘usual and accustomed place,’” I told Rich during my initial interview, “was normal dinner conversation growing up.”  My father used the language of treaties every day during his work, advocating and managing the treaty fisheries
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A puzzle re the Treaty of 1863


In 1863 the Joseph or Wallowa Band Nez Perce lived quietly in the Wallowa Country, isolated by mountains on three sides and the Snake River Canyon to the east. There were no white settlers—though a couple of French trappers married to Nez Perce women had lived among them from time to time—just a few hundred Indians who gathered summers in the Wallowa valley and at the Lake to hunt and socialize and catch and dry fish, and then spread out in family groups along the tributaries of the Snake River in colder times. 
In 1863, to the north, over high timbered country and across what is now called the Grande Ronde River and then more high country and then about at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, white men made new lines on maps drawn at Walla Walla in 1855 that had promised the Wallowa Country and a total of
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