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

Photo Exhibit at the Josephy Center

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 Read The Article

Westerner

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 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

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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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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The assimilationists

 


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 action begins in 1899,
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Alvin and Grace: Nez Perce and settlers in the Wallowa Country

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 Read The Article