Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Year end summary--and plea!

Hello friends,

We’ve been at it for a bit over two years now at the Josephy Center. The Center has a vigorous program of events and exhibits, and the Library, in addition to its archival work and dealing with students, writers, and researchers, is very involved with overall programs. Last year we featured Josephy tapes and stories in a “Remembering World War II” exhibit, and this spring we will pay more attention to Alvin—and his career at Time and American Heritage—with a May exhibit built around the “50s” and a collaborative art exhibit with the Nez Perce National Historic Park on the occasion of their fiftieth anniversary (Alvin was involved in the Park establishment too).  May will mark Alvin’s Centenary—he was born in 1915! We are soliciting Alvin—and Betty—stories for archives, and possibly for some kind of book. We have scheduled Jaime Pinkham for a joint Josephy Center—Fishtrap “Josephy Lecture” in June. Jaime will address natural resource issues through tribal eyes. The Josephy Center thrives!

The Library has books on the shelves, papers in boxes (with some cataloging going on right now), and we are about to create a small standing exhibit built around the Nez Perce story and Alvin’s work as historian and activist. Just this week I am in an interesting email conversation with a Nez Perce tribal member doing research on historical grieving processes of her tribe. Visitors have included a descendent of C.E.S. Wood, and a Road Scholar crew. We have an intern coming in January. Things at the Library itself are busy.

All of this to bring you up to date on goings on here—and to ask for your continuing support. Many of you have received the annual giving letter from Executive Director Cheryl Coughlan. Please respond as you can if you have not already done so. And for those of you who are only electronically connected through this email list and the Library Blog activities, I invite you to join the party.  You can drop a check in the mail to Josephy Center/ PO Box 949/ Joseph, Oregon 97846, or you can make a quick trip to our web site donation page—http://josephy.org/support-the-josephy-center-for-arts-and-culture/.

In either case, do what you can—and have a wonderful holiday season!
rich

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving; happy history

I wrote this piece a few months ago as my Chieftain newspaper column--but it is really a Thanksgiving item. So apologies if you saw it then, and Happy Thanksgiving--and Turkey and Corn and Squash--in any case!

Remember that third or fourth grade Thanksgiving pageant? The big feast with Indians providing most of the food? And maybe the scene before the feast or after, with Squanto teaching the Pilgrims how to plant; he squatted, surrounded by Pilgrims, and put a fish in a hole and planted corn and beans and squash.

I don’t remember learning how Squanto—more properly “Tisguantum”—was captured and taken to England, abducted and sent to Spain, made his way back to Newfoundland and then to his Patuxet tribal homeland, only to find his tribe had been decimated by European disease.

I don’t remember anyone asking or explaining how Squanto met the Puritains, and how the Indians got corn and squash and beans. Had we been encouraged to do so, we might have arrived at the work of Alvin Josephy and Alfred Crosby.

Crosby, who taught history at Washington State and then at the University of Texas, said that he got “tired of muttering on about Washington and Jefferson,” and when he really looked at American history, he “kept running into smallpox,” a disease that arrived with the Europeans and killed more indigenous Americans than did guns. Crosby then wondered what else had come with Columbus, and what from the “new world” had traveled back to Europe, Asia, and, eventually, Africa. Old to new: horses, cows, sheep, pigs, wheat, guns, smallpox, measles, flu, earthworms. New to old: tobacco, corn, chocolate, rubber, manioc, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers. And, although slavery and gold were around in both hemispheres, the trade in them increased rapidly in Columbus’s wake. It was all part of what Crosby called the “Columbian Exchange,” and it changed the world. He wrote the book in 1972, and now you can take college classes in it!

If our onetime neighbor and my mentor, Alvin Josephy, were still around, I would ask him about Crosby, and try to bring the two of them together—maybe have an event at the new Josephy Center! Alvin left a couple of thousand books and history journals for us to build a “Library of Western History and Culture” in Wallowa County. What I didn’t understand eight and ten years ago was that he also left a way of looking at history. The Europeans who touched the Americas with Columbus in 1492 brought diseases, animals, and technology—most importantly, guns. But Josephy said that the most destructive thing that they brought was a way of looking at the world, a way that put European religious and cultural values at the top of a historical pyramid—and “heathens” and their values in the newly “discovered” lands of the Americas as primitive, discovered so that they could be destroyed or transformed to make way for advancing Anglo-American civilization.

In fact, as Josephy demonstrated in the award winning Indian Heritage of America (in 1968, a few years ahead of Crosby’s Columbian Exchange), the Americas were every bit as rich and complex with civilizations as was the old world. The Mayas and Mississippians had had cities larger than anything in Europe in their time. Peoples and languages had moved, filled and transformed two continents long before Columbus “discovered” them. Corn and beans had been tamed, refined, and moved from Central America to the harsher climates of the northeast Atlantic coast. Extensive trade networks had moved obsidian, abalone shells, and gold as well as agricultural products across the continent and its hundreds of tribes and civilizations.

It wasn’t all pretty. Some hunter gatherers were always on the edge. Some complex civilizations had religions and class structures that embraced slavery—and even human sacrifice. But the Americas were not Sioux Indians riding horses across the plains—the stereotype that most of us grew up with and that is still promoted around the world. The Sioux didn’t start on the plains, and got their horses from Europeans!

If you think about corn and beans traveling the world, about the trade routes that shuffled tobacco and potatoes, gold and slaves, from continent to continent in the decades after Columbus, and if you think about Maya, Inca, Roman, and Greek ruins, and if you think about current efforts to restore salmon and figure out ways for different languages and religions to live side by side, the history to dwell on and learn from is a much bigger thing than what I learned in a class required of all college freshman in 1960: “Western Civilization.” Even the word, “western,” which referred to Greeks, Romans, maybe some Huns and Mongols, Germans, Scots, Irish, and other fair “Europeans,” but omitted Mayans and Incans, Aztecs and Mississippians and other peoples of the “western” hemisphere, seems now ironic at best.


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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tomatoes and trains

Students in my OSU class in La Grande were asked to from groups of two or three, pick a crop or animal now grown commercially in the Northwest, and make short oral presentations explaining their subjects’ botanical or biological and geographical roots, and then follow them to the present. This is all part of the discussion of the Columbian Exchange and establishing in their minds the idea that farming and agriculture did not just originate in the Tigris-Euphrates, but also in what is now Peru and Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil. (And Asia and Africa for that matter.) Over half of all “world crops” originated in this hemisphere—think maize, tobacco, rubber, manioc, potato, and tomato!

So one group picked the tomato, and in the course of their presentation showed a slide with present-day world production. I think the US ranks third—I have already forgotten one and two, but Turkey is number four.

Which reminded me that in 1970, when I was on the Peace Corps staff in Turkey, I met someone from Heinz or Del Monte who was contracting tomato plantations in Turkey. I remember asking “why Turkey?” And learning that the commercial section of the US Embassy had sophisticated soil, climate, and growing condition information on Turkey—better than anything the Turks themselves had. Heinz—and/or Del Monte—stayed in regular touch with the ag and commercial sections of the State Department and their minions across the world, and here they were growing tomatoes in Turkey.

It so happens that the theme for the next class session—which was yesterday—was Isaac Stevens and the Treaty Period. We have attempted to “discover” what the entire region was like pre-contact, and then are following subsequent disruptions to the ecosystem—or ecosystems. The disruption catalog includes the horse, diseases, fur trapping, missionizing, and, currently, treaties and wars. We still have fish wheels and dams, tractors and irrigation systems to look at in the next few weeks.

Isaac Stevens is a very interesting character: first in his class at West Point; experience with Army Corps of Engineers and in the Mexican-American War; and campaigner for President Franklin Pierce. At age 37, due most probably to his political involvement, he was named Governor and Indian Agent for Washington Territory. But this was not enough for Stevens. He wrote and lobbied for a third plum, the survey of the northern route for a transcontinental railroad.

Explorers had found no easy “northwest passage” by water, and Congress, deciding that rail transportation was the ride of the future, had, in 1853 and 1854 directed the War Department to explore and survey four Railroad Routes from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, the northern route roughly between the 47th and 49th parallels.

My guess is that prior to the Civil War, there was no way Southern legislators would approve anything other than a southern route—the potential for additional free states was too great.

But at the time, Stevens was smitten with the idea of being the man who filled the Puget Sound with people and linked the nation east and west. His treaty making makes more sense in this light—combine and clean up the tribal situation on the West side of the Cascades, and leave room for a rail route to the north on the East side of the Cascades. And negotiate with those pesky Blackfeet so that the route won’t fall in the middle of Indian conflict.

So what does this have to do with tomatoes? Well, we happen to have Volume VI of the survey, published in 1857. This volume explored and surveyed an end route, one that would connect the Sacramento Valley in California with the Columbia River. The book is beautiful, with plates—some in color—of birds, fish, mammals, trees, and plants along the route, and it is practical, with geographical and geological information, distances, altitudes, longitudes and latitudes.

It is all that railroad entrepreneurs would need—along with rights to land—to build a railroad.  So the aha here—going back to tomatoes in Turkey—is that our government has always and forever, from Lewis and Clark to the internet, Leland Stanford to Bill Gates, done the groundbreaking work that paves the way for the private sector. 

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Friday, October 17, 2014

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 Pacific was to how he met and handled the Nez Perce story. He was only a few years away from horrendous experiences on Guam and Iwo Jima when Time Magazine sent him to Idaho and he first learned about the Nez Perce. He knew about war first hand, and he knew to trust the warriors’ accounts of things (and not rely on the generals and politicians). Previous, pre-war experience in radio journalism had honed his ear. As Indian historian Ciff Trafzer says, Alvin Josephy knew how to listen.

So two things came together immediately for Alvin. First, he saw that the Nez Perce Story was a “great American Epic,” a noble people and a fighting and tactically brilliant retreat and near escape to Canada and an alliance with the legendary Sitting Bull. Second, most of the available material on the tribe and on the War was from the White man’s point of view. But there were Indians’ accounts out there in the records of a courageous and eccentric Indian friend named Lucullus McWhorter, who walked the fighting retreat trail with Indian participants and wrote down their accounts; and in family memories and the words of four veterans of the War still alive.

Alvin of course determined to tell the bigger story of the Northwest and the Nez Perce, which took him back to Hudson’s Bay Company records, to the reservation at Colville where many descendants of the non-treaty Nez Perce still lived in exile, and to original accounts scribbled by fur traders, sketched at the Walla Walla treaty council by Gustav Sohon; notes, letters, and maps hidden and obscured in libraries and state historical societies across the country.


I think Alvin Josephy’s experiences in World War II are a big part of what he saw and how he proceeded with the Nez Perce story.

Number two. I know that I touched briefly on the discovery of gold on the Nez Perce Reservation in 1861, and the subsequent flood of white miners—some 18,000 had crowded onto the rez by 1862. I talked about the importance of the concurrent Civil War—Lincoln needed the gold and the country was still pressing irrevocably West during the great conflict. What I skimmed over was the War’s aftermath, when President Grant, listening to some of the liberal critics of how Indians had been treated during the War, turned over the administration of Indian reservations to the churches (in what Josephy says was the biggest abrogation of the line between church and state in our history). The Nez Perce Reservation was given to the Presbyterians to administer as part of Grant’s “Peace Policy.” (The Presbyterians become important in later Nez Perce history as well, but that is for another day.)

Fortunately, Presbyterian Agent Montieth was sympathetic and worked on the Indians’ behalf. President Grant eventually, in 1873, signed an executive order designating roughly half of the Wallowa country to the “roaming Nez Perce.” Assessments were made to make ready for buying out the white settlers’ improvements, but by 1875 there were too many settlers, there was too much in the balance, and Grant rescinded the 1873 offer.

What I am sure that I failed to mention is that one of the screwy bits of history, and certainly a killer of any serious effort to give Wallowa land to Indians, is that Grant’s reservation gave the Indians the half of the Wallowa Country that had been settled by whites—roughly the north half of current Wallowa County, including the lower valley and town of Wallowa! The whites would get land that they largely had not settled.

Historian Grace Bartlett examined this closely, and determined that it was most likely “bureaucratic error,” mix-ups in communication between the field and the head office.

History has turned on less.


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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Nez Perce and the Columbian Exchange

In preparation for my Portland presentation on the Nez Perce in the Wallowa Country tomorrow night, and thinking about this ecosystems/ Pacific NW tribes class I am teaching in La Grande, I got to wondering about which elements of Alfred Crosby’s Columbian Exchange had the greatest impact on the Nez Perce.

The first one that comes to mind is the horse, because the Nez Perce became noted for their horse breeding and horsemanship. But they probably didn’t get the horse until the early 1700s, over 200 years after Columbus and his crew landed with them in the Caribbean. Late in the history of a people that had been here forever.

It was diseases, and specifically smallpox, that got Crosby to thinking about what all had crossed the ocean and united the two worlds so long divided. And the impact of diseases that the Europeans had developed some immunities to over centuries on indigenous Americans was in all ways catastrophic. In 1491—or maybe his later book, 1493—Charles Mann explains their roles in assisting the conquistadors in overwhelming central and south American civilizations, and in presenting a ghost landscape for immigrant Puritans on the Northeast Atlantic coast. Abandoned Indian gardens and food caches were more important in staving off Puritan starvation than were the pluck, courage, and Christian faith usually credited.

The impacts of diseases on the Nez Perce and other Plateau tribes were again decades—maybe centuries—removed. But diseases did creep in from the Pacific Coast to decimate Willamette Valley Indians in the late 1700s, well before the white men who carried them traveled that far inland. And we know that Indian trade routes took tribal people and commodities from the Pacific Coast to the Rockies—and probably beyond. And we know that the fur trade sent diseases off ahead of it as it moved across the North Country. Allen Pinkham, a Nez Perce elder and co-author of Lewis and Clark among the Nez Perce, thinks that there were about 5,000 Nez Perce in the country at the time of Lewis and Clark—but imagines a pre-Euro-disease population of some 20,000. That would jibe with Crosby and Mann’s thoughts on the impacts of diseases.

Treaties and broken treaties led to war, and Bobbie Conner, director at Tamastlikst, reminded several of us talking about the Stevens treaties one day at the Josephy Center that one must start any discussion of Indian treaties with the “Doctrine of Discovery.” It started with the pope and the Spanish and the Portuguese, but the English picked up on it, and by the time the Oregon Territory came into that crazy “joint occupancy” status, the notion that Indian lands were somehow both occupied but unoccupied (by “civilized” peoples) had taken hold. And Plateau lands were ripe for the plucking—the fight was on between the British (largely through Hudson’s Bay Company actions)  and the upstart United States about which civilized country could claim these Indian lands. Treaties were the tools.

But then I reread the Introduction to Alvin Josephy’s 1492, and he tells us that with all of the things the Europeans brought, all of their diseases, animals, steel and guns, religious righteousness and notions of private property, their Eurocentric view of the world, and the corresponding denigration of other world views, was the lethal blow. It allowed for the enslavement of Indians, the takeover of lands, the destruction of artifacts, and the erasure of languages and cultures that continued on for over 500 years! 

It echoed all the way to Alice Fletcher and Jane Gay “allotting” Nez Perce tribal lands in the 1880s. The solution to the Indian problem was to make them farmers, to assimilate them. Fletcher was kinder than most of her predecessors and contemporaries, thinking that the languages and cultures of Indians should be preserved in books and museums, but she was adamant in the belief that they must join the superior, Euro-American culture to survive.

“Kill the Indian to save the man”—or some version thereof—was long the standard on the “liberal” side of those dealing with Indians.


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