Thursday, January 27, 2011

Josephy, Indians, and the Environment

This is from the transcript of an interview that Jack Loeffler did with Alvin in August 1995, File 3, page 37, 38, 40 in the Josephy Library at Fishtrap archives.

Several times in the interview Alvin refers to subjects that he will or will not address in his memoir (A Walk Toward Oregon, published in 2000). Here he describes his conversion from being a "pro-development guy," who wanted to see the West--the "other half of the country"-- developed as the East had been, to seeing the country in an ecologically sounder and more sustainable way. You have to read A Walk Toward Oregon and know something of his extensive work on Indians to get the whole picture, but here is the shorthand: companies and government agencies were screwing the Indians--and oh, they were screwing a lot of other people too in the name of development and profit. At least some environmentalists were taking a longer view of things, did not have private selfish motives in it. So I will join the fight....

And he did. The first piece one on the Seneca and the Kinzua Dam ("Cornplanter, can you swim?" American Heritage Magazine, 1968), and then on to the Four Corners in the Southwest, and to the Garrison Diversion Project in the Dakotas. Here, in the interview with Loeffler, he is reflecting on it all, on his personal journey in Indian Country and post WW II America, as he begins writing the memoir.

"...this is why I've devoted so much of my life, once I began to make the turn to redeem myself so to speak from having been a pro-development guy, writing about it and urging it in the pages of Time magazine and the radio and all the rest, various things began to happen to turn me around to see the light. And they all really had to do with Indians. I began to meet and know Indians and then see how they were being screwed and how the whites were putting their culture higher than that of the Indians and really what they were doing is saying the Indian must go or Indianness must go. We're not out to kill you anymore. We're out to kill your Indianness...

"I saw Indians being victimized by development projects; large scale things happening. It wasn't one episode or one incident that changed me. I saw for instance what the army engineers were doing to the Iroquois, the Senecas, in building Kinzua back in western New York state in 1960 and '61 and breaking the oldest existing treaty in the United States. Historically I knew about that. It was an historic episode. Morally and ethically it was revolting to me what went on, and I went up to do a story on it, to find out everything going on. It was worse than I thought. I was finding real estate people who were conniving against the Indians with the Army Engineers, and the way the BIA was treating the Indians and so forth....

"I got to know Udall and he sent me off to represent him in a number of things. I'm going to go into a lot of this in the book. This is really the theme of my book: how I changed. It didn't take me too long, because by the time you [Jack Loeffler, who worked with Alvin on Hopi and coal issues in the Southwest] and I met I was pretty much already on the side of those who were trying to protect the environment. Why? Because there was justice there and decency. You weren't rooking people. The companies were rooking people. I'll never forget going down to New Oraibi, sitting in Banyacya's home with that Peabody Coal Company vice president that I yanked along. Remember he had his plane and flew me over there to Black Mesa? And then we went to Tom's house and met a bunch of Hopis. There was (sic) a couple of blind old men and there was a young—Carlotta Shattuck, I think her name was—crying and so forth. It shook up this guy from St. Louis, vice president for public relations or something.

"When we left and drove back to where his plane was, he said to me, and this is in the lead of my story, 'We have one hell of a community relations job to do here.' That was the way he viewed it, you see, as a corporate thing. In other words, really we've got to fool the people. We've got to find a way to get them on our side here and we can't do it honestly. We've got to find the devices because we've got to have that coal mine whether they want it or not."


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

a recollection from Tom Hutchison

Speaking of Alvin...

I think few people knew of his affection for Hawai'ian music. When I had the bookstore (that brief interlude!), Kathy would bring him into town from the ranch, drop him at the store and take off. I'd play slack key guitar and he'd tell stories in that inimitable manner: charming and self-effacing. He was never a "character" in these anecdotes; he was simply a witness to events that were sometimes earthshaking, always fascinating. I would put a sign on the door- "Back In One Hour." After an hour, I'd change the sign-"Back in Half Hour." And keep changing it accordingly. Finally, Alvin said,"Why don't you make it read 'Might Be Back'?" I said, "Oh yeah. Thanks." Wrote that on the door, turned and said,"Now where were we?"


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Josephy, Thorndike, American Heritage, & the business of memoir

Rick Bombaci stopped by to bring me a Sun Magazine, August 2010, with an article by John Thorndike about caring for his aging father, Joe Thorndike. Rick mentioned that Joe must have overlapped with Alvin, as Thorndike senior edited the Harvard Crimson in 1934, worked for Time, Life, etc. I thought I remembered the name, and on checking, he is of course mentioned in Alvin's A Walk Toward Oregon:

"My old Harvard friend Jim Parton, who had returned to New York after liquidating the daily newspaper he had tried to start in Los Angeles for Henry Luce, weaned me away from Time and over to his newest--and, this time, sensationally successful--venture, the American Heritage Publishing Company. Its major product, American Heritage magazine, dedicated to popularizing American history by good writing as well as sound scholarship, had been founded after the war by a group of eminent historians, led by... Allan Nevins. but had floundered financially until Parton and two friends with whom he was running a custom publishing business--Joseph Thorndike, a former managing editor of Life magazine, whom I had known on the Crimson at Harvard, and Oliver Jensen, a former Life text editor--bought and restyled it."

Parton's first overtures were turned down, but Alvin began writing for their magazine--the pieces that led to Patriot Chiefs appeared in AH first--and in 1960 did go to American Heritage's book division to produce a large illustrated history of American Indians. He stayed for 19 years, retiring in 1979 as Vice President and Editor in Chief.

In my quick look, I didn't find anything else on Thondike in Alvin's book, but reading the son's Sun piece brought A Walk Toward Oregon to mind in many ways. Back to Joe Thorndike: He was "managing editor, then president, of the Crimson,.... In 1934 he took a job at Time under Henry Luce, and twelve years later, at thirty-thee, he became Life's third managing editor. He founded a pair of hardcover magazines, American Heritage and Horizon, edited dozens of books and wrote three himself, the last when he was almost 80." I learned from googling his biography that Thorndike was a journalist in Europe and North Africa during WW II. And am sure that he and Alvin worked together on many projects at American Heritage--try googling Alvin along with American Heritage and you can go on forever!

The parallels in life and career are many. Thorndike and Josephy both went to Harvard, both worked as journalists during the War, both worked for Luce, and then ended up at American Heritage. They were also close in age--Thorndike was born in 1917; Alvin in 1915, and they were lifelong journalists who found it hard to write in the first person. I remember Alvin telling me how hard it was to do that as he wrote Walk--and, unfortunately, I did not read The Long and the Short and the Tall, his personal account of Marines in the Pacific, while he was alive, so could not counter that "you used first person then!"

In the Sun piece, Thorndike's son cares for his father and tries to get personal stories out of him as dementia advances, lamenting that "All his life my father has talked easily and eloquently about history, economics, art, archeology, literature, and politics. What he has never talked about are his private thoughts and emotions." The son wants such talk, and doesn't get it.

Reading A Walk Towards Oregon, we learn about Alvin's amazing cruise through the major events of the 20th century. We learn about his politics, and his passionate concern for Indian rights. But he--and many in his generation--were much more guarded about strictly personal matters. Compare that with many recent memoirs, which make their hay on private traumas and exploits, rather than on being a part of larger history.

(On Tuesday, January 11, at noon at Fishtrap, we will have a brown bag discussion of A Walk Toward Oregon. Open to all!)