On Saturday, Indian elders helped dedicate the “side channel project” on the Nez Perce Homeland grounds in Wallowa. The Wallowa River, Nez Perce Fisheries workers told us, had been shoved to a side, channelized decades ago, probably in the 1940s and 50s, so that more land would be free for pasture and crops. This narrowed, straight flowing river has scoured the river bottom and eaten the banks, and in so doing destroyed places for fish to rest while migrating, and places for them to spawn. The side channel does not change the course of the main stem, but allows water to drift to and through some of the river’s old territory. In spring runoff, water will spill over the side channels and recreate marshlands, where tule and other native plants can grow. There have already been fish and lamprey in the side channel waters.Read Rich’s Post →
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.
Apologies for not blogging sooner about a wonderful new exhibit at the Josephy Center. It’s called “Historical Photos of the Wallowa Country Before WW II.” There are 50 photos, some from the County Museum, some from the Chieftain, others from private and family collectors. David Weaver, who collects photos and history and is very involved with the new Wallowa History Center in that “lower valley” town, did most of the collecting and curating, and wrote most of the mini-essays that go with the photos.
I should have written sooner so that more of you could have squeezed a trip to the Center into your January-February schedules—well, you have until February 25 to do it, so hoping that still works for some of you.
|Mazama Outing 1918–Eagle Cap Summit|
David’s initial instincts on the exhibit—to have each photo stand on its own, with mini-essays accompanying many of them, was perfect. The exhibit is 20 or 30 history lessons—women and work; family camping; Indians here after the War; Indian reflections on the reburial of Old Chief Joseph; sockeye salmon and kokanee; early photographic techniques; “postcard” prints; traveling photographers; the Mobius strip and early threshing machines (or how early farm technicians got the most out of a belt drive); football without helmets; and so much more.
Let me tell one story, because the picture of the Mazama climb of Eagle Cap in 1918 is the cover photo on the show catalog that is now available. ($20, plus $5 for mailing.)
In 1918, on their 25th anniversary, the Mazamas—a Portland based climbing club that is still very much alive—decided to make the Wallowas, and summiting Eagle Cap, the annual outing. Twenty-five of them came on the train, were feted to dinner at the restaurant in Joseph, and then taken by automobile to the head of the lake where they made base camp. The mail was brought in daily by auto delivery, and “enthusiastic fishermen caught trout within a stone’s throw of the camp frying pan.”
They spent the next several days making trips to Aneroid and Ice Lake, hiking the moraines with early Oregon geologist Dr. D. W. Smith, and going by automobile up Hurricane Creek and hiking into Mirror Lake. They fished and relaxed at Aneroid while “seven of the more strenuous members” climbed Pete’s Peak and Aneroid Point. I count 20 in the Eagle Cap summit photo, and surmise one more took the photo.
We know all this because one of the hikers was Lola Creighton, who wrote it up for the Mazama journal she’s to the viewer’s left of the man holding the flag). And we know that because two of her granddaughters—one from the Midwest and one from California—met here this summer with their daughters to show the young women where their-great grandmother had been and what she had done in 1918.
Viewers have loved it, and suggested more historical photo exhibits. Center director Cheryl Coughlan thinks that blowing up historical photos—many of these are 18” x 24”; a few are larger—makes them more real than the book-size photos we are accustomed to. We’ve had students from Wallowa, Joseph, and Enterprise in to see the exhibit—over 100 of them so far, and it is a fine way to teach history. The Indian story makes more sense when there is a photo of the women preparing food for the reburial of Old Joseph and a picture of Indians at the fair grounds in Enterprise. The sockeye and kokanee story moves from past to present with news of a rebuild of the dam at Wallowa Lake—with fish passage! And I always ask them to look at what the girls and women were doing in 1895 and 1918—working horses, playing guitars, fishing on the Lake, and climbing Eagle Cap.
You can scroll most of the exhibit at https://josephy.org/exhibit-slider/. You won’t get the essays, so come on in–before February 25–and see the exhibit, or order one of the exhibit catalogs.
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|Walter Brennan and Gary Cooper in “The Westerner”|
We celebrated the life and work of actor Walter Brennan this weekend at the Josephy Center. Grandpa McCoy of TV’s “Real McCoys” bought a ranch in Wallowa County in 1940, long before he played on television, but well into an acting career that stretched from the silents to “Rio Bravo,” “The Westerner” to “The Over the Hill Gang.” Brennan was a political conservative who admired the Actors Guild, and a WW I vet who’d suffered mustard gas (and said later that if offered the chance to volunteer again he would decline). He built and owned a motel and movie theater in Joseph, was in on the founding of a rodeo named Chief Joseph Days, and walked Main Street, ate at the Gold Room, and in general saw himself as another resident of Wallowa County.
Some local wags have it that he came to Wallowa County as a friend of silent film star Eugene Pallette, a notorious right winger who feared apocalypse and built a heavily armed and provisioned retreat far up the Imnaha River. Pallette, it is said, planned to blow the Imnaha Canyon shut if the bad guys—communists, Asians, whoever—came to get him.
In contrast, Brennan bought a working ranch, and worked it. He moved here because son Mike’s North Hollywood agriculture teacher (yes, Hollywood had ag teachers and the Brennans had chickens in the yard) had taught in Enterprise, and when Walter said he was looking for a ranch and thinking about Jackson Hole, the teacher steered him to Wallowa County.
Son Mike carried on the ranching and farming, and grandchildren and great grandchildren still live and work here. A gaggle of heirs—some of them coming from California for the event, joined biographer Carl Rollyson and actor Kevin Cahill for our three-day celebration, which included watching “The Westerner” and a one-man play of the “Old Character,” crafted by Rollyson from Brennan’s own words and played by La Grande teacher and actor Kevin Cahill.
What did we learn? That Brennan started in New England, didn’t much like school, worked hard at many things, volunteered for service in WW I, where he saw heavy action, was gassed, and from which he later suffered from what we now call PTSD. After the War he worked for a time in a bank, which he hated, and married Ruth, a local sweetheart, quit the bank, and headed West. In California, Brennan made a fortune in real estate—then lost it. He had done some acting in the East, and in California found work as a stuntman and extra, finally finding speaking roles in “Barbary Coast” and “Fury,” and soon winning three Oscars for best supporting actor. He is thought of as the quintessential character actor, a man who worked at his craft, his accents and his appearance (“do you want me with teeth or without,” he would ask directors). In all, Brennan appeared in over 200 motion pictures and scores of TV shows.
Why did he buy a ranch? “Doesn’t everybody want to be a cowboy?”
And here he could be a kind of cowboy, shoot squirrels, eat lunch, and promote Chief Joseph Days with cowboy neighbors. I suspect that some of Walter’s Wallowa County friends shared his right wing political views, but when he was here being a local attending to local things seemed more important. It’s also worth noting that he named his motel The Indian Lodge to honor, he said, Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians who were wrongly kicked out of the Wallowas.
I guess for white folks the West has always been a place to create and recreate the self. And movies have been vehicles to review history and human story—and to explore the issues of the day.
Or, as writer friend Molly Gloss would say, of telling and retelling the same story—stranger comes to town to resolve some kind of dispute and save the schoolmarm or barroom floozy.
But the nature of the disputes is interesting. We watched “The Westerner,” in which Brennan plays Hanging Judge Roy Bean and Gary Cooper is the stranger who comes to town to resolve the dispute between cattlemen and sodbusters and ends up with the sodbuster’s daughter. What an interesting reminder that all of agriculture was not—and is not today—on the same side of an issue.
My thought is that, in time, Walter Brennan realized that sodbusters and cattlemen were all operating on land that had been lived on and with by Indians for millennia. “The Westerner” did not address the issue—not an Indian to be seen in that version of post Civil War Texas. It was years before “Little Big Man” and “Dances With Wolves” took Indians seriously…
but decades after Walter Brennan had become a Westerner, found the Wallowa Country, and named his motel The Indian Lodge.
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|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 Indians had developed over millennia in the “new” world, and shipped potatoes, corn, chocolate, tomatoes, manioc and dozens more around the globe. They also shipped gold—enough of it to change world economies, and tobacco, enough to start a new European rage. And they enslaved Indians and brought in African slaves to dig the gold and farm the tobacco. Etc.
The world changed, continents “exchanged,” as Charles Mann recounts so well in his two books on the subject, 1491 and 1493.
But not all of America changed immediately, and the Indians in many parts of the country, after suffering diseases and wars, losing buffalo and land, being chased or “removed” from one place to another, held onto little pieces of earth, where many of them still live. These “reservations” (lands “reserved” from much larger areas of life and influence) are cruel reminders of how much land was taken from Indians, but their existence has also been a bulwark against total assimilation. That is what Alvin said—reservations, however small and humble, have allowed some Indians to maintain tradition and culture that is intrinsically tied to land.
The “better” lands—most not reserved for Indians—were generally lands most suitable to agricultural production. And, although it is another strand in this long story of land and lost lands, the notion that “ownership” of land should somehow be tied to its “improvement” is a recurrent theme in the homesteading tradition and the takeover of Indian lands. God, said settling pioneers and their preachers, had ordained men to make the best use of the land; God, retorted Plateau tribesmen, did not want mother earth scarred with a plow.
* * *
The land on Joseph Creek in the Wallowa Country was homesteaded late in the 19th century. The Tippetts arrived there in 1916 or 17. Thirty years ago Biden Tippett, who grew up there and went to country school there, took Alvin Josephy and a tape recorder on a tour of the area. Biden told me about this “lost” tape a year or more ago, and a month ago Ann Hayes brought in a box of cassette tapes, one marked “Alvin Josephy—Biden Tippett 1986.” We had it digitized, and I listened my way to Portland with it on Saturday.
There is nothing earth-shattering, nothing that is going to change the reading of local history, but it is another chunk in my own understanding of the difference between improving land and living with land, owning land and being part of it, European and Northwest Plateau Tribal notions of relationship to land.
The Tippetts of course are of European stock, but something drove them from the Midwest to Heppner, Oregon, and then to the Chesnimnus Country in Wallowa County, and then took one of them, Jidge Tippett, to Joseph Creek, deep in the canyons of Snake River Country.
His son, Biden, born in 1926, said there were three or four other families on Joseph Creek at the time, enough to make the school and to help each other through calving, haying, and hard times.
What comes out of the interview is how self-sufficient the canyon dwellers were. They were good neighbors, and they all grew a little food, had their beef and wild berries, and traded for most everything else. Cows for a pig, and, Biden remembers, hides—wild and domestic—that the kids collected and traded to the Indians for gloves and moccasins.
Trading was one of the things that American Indians excelled at, and one of the most underreported in standard histories. The Nez Perce dried salmon and traded it in buffalo country. The Tippetts traded for gloves and bacon, and, like the Indians, ate the salmon and steelhead, game and berries. Like the Indians, they gaffed steelhead at the “narrows” on the Grand Ronde River.
Like the Indians, they traveled with seasons, wintering along Joseph Creek, summering in the high country, and moving cattle through the breaks in spring and fall. At one point on the tape, Alvin says “you lived like Indians.” And Biden pretty much agrees, though he says that ranchers today (meaning 1986) make use of some modern conveniences. But he describes the way he sees wild animals—as “part of the habitat,” the way he travels horseback on narrow trails, the way he visualizes a day’s work and travel, reads sign, and lives with and loves the land, as the probable ways of its the old inhabitants.
Alvin asked him if he’d ever been lost in the canyons. “No,” Biden says, but he did get lost one time in Spokane.
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|Beadwork byAllen Pinkham, Jr.|
|Al Josephy’s favorite picture of his father|
|Nez Perce arrive at Walla Walla in 1855|
I’m again reading a book I read years ago—and again finding new meaning. Caroline Wasson Thomason was born in 1887 somewhere else, but grew up “Between the Sheeps” in Wallowa County. She married a teacher and lived for years in New York, where she wrote children’s plays and stories. And she wrote a couple of novels, one that dealt with American blacks and civil rights, and one historical novel: In the Wallowas.
My recollection was of a syrupy story involving settlers and their teenage children, but with accurate accounts of Chief Joseph’s last visit to the Wallowas and a famous runaway horse incident. I also vaguely remembered a love story that crossed racial lines, and the purple prose. I was right on that: “’My princess! My beautiful flower!’ Imna knelt beside the bed and took her in his arms. A spasm of pain flushed her lovely face, and he held her more closely.”
The “morg” at the Wallowa County Chieftain had the 1899 papers, which meshed with the novel’s account. Joseph came with a promise of Washington D.C. money in hand to purchase property, but the proposition was not treated seriously. The newspapers treated it with disdain and even some contempt—the Asotin paper wanted to extend the ban to keep Indians from coming back to hunt and gather.
The other important thing that I noticed this time around was the publication date, 1954. This is the Eisenhower administration and “termination” time. Termination, by whatever name it has been called over the years—e.g. The Dawes Act—has always had curious mixed sponsorship: those who hated Indians, wanted their land, or just scoffed at their old superstitions and thought they should join the majority culture (Alvin said that Henry Luce at Time Magazine thought them “phonies” and just wanted them to get on with it), and those who sympathized with Indians but thought that the only way they could survive was to join the dominant culture. Alvin called this the “vanishing Indian” view of Edward Sheriff Curtis and others. The old Indians and their ways were to be put in museums and admired for their grandeur and maybe a little for previous contributions—maize and potatoes? –but they had to become assimilated, become white.
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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 valley. They didn’t feed all fall and early winter and the news went to Union County newspapers and then to the Oregonian and the rest of the West that the Wallowas was a “Stockman’s paradise.” It was the first of many misunderstandings.
The settlers soon did learn from the Indians to move cattle to lower canyon ground in winter months. The Indians were not in the upper valleys in winter months—or even spring months. They generally arrived in August and hunted, fished, and gathered foods through the fall. There were meeting places—the forks of the rivers above present day Wallowa, where Old Joseph was originally buried; Indian Town on Chesnimnus Creek, and Wallowa Lake for the sockeye salmon harvest. They kept their own herds of horses and cows in the canyons, and moved there themselves after their summer-fall upper valley sojourns.
In general, Indians and settlers got along with each other. There were a few “Indian haters” among the settlers, and, according to Grace, they were known by their neighbors and not much appreciated. There was also a rabble rousing newspaper in Union County. But most of the settlers—even as war loomed with a conflict over horses and a white man killing an Indian, with subsequent “councils” of Indians and whites, movements of soldiers from Walla Walla, and meetings of Indians, generals, and Indian agents in Lapwai—were busy planting and harvesting crops, dealing with their livestock, arranging schooling for children, and going to the Walla Walla Valley to work for cash during the earlier harvest time there.
There were attempts to reconcile the treaty of 1855, which left the Wallowa Country to the Indians, and which the Joseph or Wallowa band Nez Perce had signed, with the 1863 treaty, which took away the Wallowas, and which they and several other bands had not signed. These attempts involved Washington D.C. and the Indian agency in Lapwai.
Without going into details, a division of the valley was envisioned, but Lapwai Indian agent Montieth, Washington authorities and the settlers could not seem to pull it off, because they could not get the “roaming Nez Perce,” as they called them, to agree to settle down. In other words, if Joseph and his people had just agreed to “become white” in their culture and
agriculture, they might not have been expelled from the Wallowa Country.
Alvin said many times that from the beginning of the European adventure in the Americas, we killed Indians with war and disease, but, more importantly, we overwhelmed them with Euro-centered culture. Often, it was the best intentioned who tried to assimilate them, and kill what he called “Indianness.”
Grace Bartlett’s book, written with Alvin’s strong encouragement, gives a blow by blow account of the way that played out in the Wallowa Country.