Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Josephy Library, January 30, 2013

Rich and Josephy Center Director Lyn Craig at the shelves
The Josephy Library of Western History and Culture is part of the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture in Joseph, Oregon. It is based on over 2000 books, journals, artifacts, manuscripts, and miscellaneous pieces from Josephy home libraries in Greenwich, Connecticut and Joseph, Oregon. It honors Alvin’s work as a historian of and advocate for American Indians, and Alvin and Betty’s commitment to literature, history, the arts, the West, and to the men, women, and children of all colors and backgrounds who have lived in and loved the West.

Alvin M. Josephy Jr. was the author of The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, The Indian Heritage of America, 500 Nations, and several other books and scores of magazine and journal articles on Indian and Western history. He was the founding board chair of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

January 30, 2013:

1       Over 400 books are cataloged and on shelves. We catalog on the SAGE system of Eastern Oregon Libraries: 
2     Hundreds of journals—long runs of Oregon Historical Quarterly, American Heritage, Western Historical Quarterly, American West, etc. , and shorter runs of more obscure journals—Annals of Wyoming, Okanogan Historical Society Report, Northeastern Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, etc. are being entered on a spread sheet, which should be available on line in a couple of weeks.
3      We have begun to index articles written by Alvin Josephy. Eventually, we will have a spread sheet with this information, and will gradually add abstracts. As Josephy’s journalism includes hundreds of pieces written during student days at Harvard, as Marine journalist in the WW II Pacific, ten years at Time Magazine, etc., this will be an ongoing activity.
4     The Original maps from the Nez Perce book are being digitized and will soon be available.The plan is to put them up on the Josephy Center web site at low resolution. Print use of high resolution images will be by permission.
5     We are beginning to organize material in “pods” by subject area. These reflect significant areas of concern in Josephy’s work. For instance, materials on the fur trade and the Civil War in the West,
6       Our second class, “The Wallowa Country: 1855-1900” will begin on February 19. This four week, non-credit class is aimed at local history buffs and will include several Joseph High School students.
7       Saturday morning sessions for middle school students are in the works
8     A “children’s corner” is being developed by volunteers. It will include children’s books, toys, etc.
9     Although the main collection is non-circulating, we have extra copies of Josephy books and other material of special local interest that is being organized into a very small lending section.

We appreciate your questions, suggestions, and assistance. Libraries, I am learning, are sustained by love. There is no way that this work “pays its way,” but, as friend Kim Stafford reminds me, it was Benjamin Franklin who said that community is dependent on three strong public institutions: a fire department, post office, and library. The fire departments are still here, the Post Office is under attack, and small non-profit libraries like ours join the great public libraries in maintaining culture—and community.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

A different Oregon history

We don’t know how things will turn out in Egypt, Libya, or Syria, don’t know where the Arab Spring will take the people who are in the midst of it, or, for that matter, what impacts it will have on us, living thousands of miles away but connected by war, trade, and the long threads of family and friendship.  At the same time, we assume an inevitability in our own national history, which we are taught to see as a series of iconic events marshaled and mastered by iconic men—yes, mostly men. 

Our textbooks start with Columbus and give us Washington, Jefferson, Lewis and Clark; Lincoln, Grant, and Lee; Carnegie and Rockefeller; the Roosevelts, Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. There is “discovery,” then pilgrims, frontiersmen, and the Revolutionary War; The Oregon Trail, The Civil War, Manifest Destiny, the Great Depression, “world” wars, etc. etc. etc.

Our friend Alvin Josephy spent a career putting a different face on American history. He wanted to know why the Indians were dispossessed—and how and why they have survived; why westward expansion took the routes it did, and how the Civil War played out across the entire continent.  He did this by paying attention to small things—the diaries of women, the notes of fur traders, the words of Nez Perce warriors spoken in sweats decades after their War.

Joseph Gale
I am thinking these things while I try to wring the lessons from Governor Joseph Gale and His Indian First Lady: Oregon’s First Governor, a book written by driven amateur historians Lillian Cummings Densley and Aaron G. Densley and published in Baker City in 2010. “Our family interest in writing about Joseph Gale originated in growing up in New Bridge, Oregon, near the Historic Gale home…… we did not know our research of Joseph Gale would lead us to cover the establishment of the old West.”

Eliza Gale-courtesy Oregon St Lib
Densley and Densley trace Gale’s life from his 1807 birth in Washington D.C. through years at sea, in the fur trade, as merchandiser and farmer across the West, to his death in Eagle Valley in eastern Oregon in 1881. They tell us that he did take an Indian wife, and that she was the daughter of Old Joseph, so the half sister of Young Chief Joseph and Ollokot. Her name was Bear Claws, but she took the Christian name, Eliza, after Eliza Spalding, on her marriage to Gale.

When the fur trade collapsed, the Gales moved to the Willamette Valley and took up farming. That was in 1839. There is a good story about building a ship and sailing it to San Francisco and trading it for cattle; the missionaries in the valley apparently had the livestock trade sewn up, and Gale and others broke it with the ship gambit.

The white occupation of the northwest was in its infancy, and governance—or at least control—of the territory, according to the white governments involved if not the Indians who lived here, was held jointly by the British and Americans. In 1843, spurred by the necessity of probating an estate and the problem of predation on livestock, 102 white men gathered to decide on forming a government. The Hudson’s Bay Company urged “Canadians,” mostly Frenchmen, to vote against formation, but the “Americans” were joined by two breakaway Canadians and won the vote, 52—50.

Because of the factions involved—Canadians and Americans—most of them with Indian wives, missionaries, and a new wave of white settlers with white wives coming across the Oregon Trail, an executive committee of three was selected rather than one governor. Joseph Gale represented the mixed families. He served for a year, but with growing pressure from the stream of white settlers and missionaries against mixed marriages—one accused the Methodists of condoning adultery by allowing such a marriage—Gale chose family and he and Eliza picked up and moved to California with the gold rush.

Etc. etc. the Gales eventually come back to Oregon and settle in Eagle Valley. He dies in 1881 and Eliza picks up an allotment on the Umatilla Reservation. She lives until 1905, and is buried in Weston.

But think of the “what ifs”: The ship might have sunk and missionaries’ hands strengthened towards a religious oligarchy. The vote could have gone against formation, and the British hand empowered in the Northwest. The mixed families could have dominated and formed a government and, one can imagine, a state that favored their kind. The happy amateur historians in Baker County might have entitled their book The Tale of Two Votes, and made the Frenchmen Oregon heroes. 

Driven by local curiosity, they tell a tale that, in its rambling way, rouses other possibilities in Oregon history.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King Day, 2013: embracing the dream

George Fletcher, Pendleton  Roundup

In 1968, fresh back from my Peace Corps stint in Turkey, I got involved with the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington D.C. I was a bit player, a soldier carrying cautionary words—the Campaign would go on and would not be violent—to suburban churches and returning with food from them to mostly old Black citizens in the city isolated by the riots that followed Martin Luther King’s assassination. The campaign did go on, and my indelible memory is a service in a black church with Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams, and one heavy set white woman at the podium and a mostly black audience linking arms and singing “We Shall Overcome.”

Like most Americans, I had grown up away from conscious racial conflict, unconscious of the role and meaning of race in America. Diversity meant six Lutheran churches in one small Minnesota town, a California high school with largely parallel white and brown student bodies, and four black students and no brown that I remember on my college campus.

In the Peace Corps I lived with Kurds and Turks; In Washington D.C. the neighborhood was mostly black but sprinkled rainbow with small country embassies. Then we came to Oregon and Wallowa County, not knowing how white it was, not knowing a history of exclusion laws that denied blacks the right to live here and “half breed” Indians the right to vote, not knowing the tragic story of the Nez Perce removal from their homeland.

I’ve learned—and as I have learned from history and current events and untangled my own past experiences I have written about it. A dozen years ago I came on a book called The Negro Cowboys; I learned that some 5000 black cowboys were part of the brief post Civil War cattle drives from Texas north. I learned that it was Owen Wister, who wrote The Virginians, who could be charged with scrubbing our cowboy history white. Wister, Teddy Roosevelt, and cohorts and their conscious and unconscious adherence to Manifest Destiny that placed not just whites, but Anglo-American whites at the peak civilization’s pyramid. I wrote about that and about African American rodeo cowboy George Fletcher, who pleased the crowd and not the judges at the Pendleton Roundup. The sheriff tore Fletcher’s hat into pieces and sold them so that his prize money rivaled that of the judges’ white choice.

Fletcher had learned to ride on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, where he found less prejudice than he did in town (though it is interesting that it was a white crowd that jeered the judges’ decision). This matched the stories I’d read about Indian baseball players playing on black teams in pre Jackie Robinson professional baseball.

And now, as we put together the Alvin and Betty Josephy Library of Western History and Culture, I find records of a West that is more diverse than textbooks tell. Trappers and fur traders took Indian wives and yes, many of them discarded the Indians when white women arrived or they returned to older homes, many but not all or even most.

David Thompson, the man who mapped most of Western Canada and the Columbia River drainage, on retirement from the fur trade went back to Hudson’s Bay with his Indian wife and raised their 13 children while he surveyed the US–Canada border. Joseph Gale, one of three “first Oregon governors” (it was pre-statehood, and the communities of missionaries, British sympathizers, and Americans with mixed-race families were equally represented in that first government) was married to a daughter of Old Chief Joseph. After a life of fur trading, sailing, gold mining, and commerce in Western Oregon and California—and pressures to leave his Indian wife, Eliza, they came together to Eagle Valley in Eastern Oregon.

Gale had a Chinese helper on his Baker County farm, and there is now a museum where the China Doctor of John Day lived. Yes, there was a Chinese Massacre, but white and Chinese Americans are working now to put that historic record straight. And in the library I have a picture of a group of Snake River cowboys in sheepskin chaps, one of them dark with long Indian braids dropping from his cowboy hat.

I’ve come to think that “white” is a mistaken picture of our own history, more a mistaken dream that men imagined meant smart and good and pure. That slavery, Jim Crow, counting citizens by half, Japanese internment camps and Manifest Destiny were sidetracks—often brutal and mean—on a national journey that, if it is to continue for another three hundred years, must purge itself of this old dream and embrace the one of Martin Luther King.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

On libraries and generosity

Lyn Craig and Rich at the Josephy Library shelves
On Friday I picked up two boxes from the Post Office for the Josephy Library—bookends sent me by a Portland law firm library that is remodeling and no longer needs them. The bookends were advertised on a listserv sponsored by the Oregon State Library—I now get regular notices of meetings, grants, and questions and answers about libraries and librarianship.  And occasionally something like this—notice of 70 metal bookends (worth $300-$400) for donation to another library in need. When I replied, librarian Julie said she’d pack them up and send immediately—and consider the shipping costs a donation.

As I have said before, this learning to be a librarian is an engaging business, with lessons in history, the social sciences, research practices, and new technologies coming at me daily.  I’d like to add another lesson—or theory: libraries, librarians, library patrons, and even the taxpayers who support libraries are testament to the spirit of human generosity—a trait that doesn’t get much play these days.

Years ago I was at a meeting in Seattle and got a tour of the new downtown Seattle Public Library. I was struck by the attention to needs of patrons, and especially to the needs of people with multiple problems and few resources. The restrooms were built knowing that some used them for basic hygiene, and a large computer room served men and women of varied ages and modes of dress. Some read papers and books and passed time, I’m sure, on long rainy Seattle days; others fought through genealogical records or, I imagine, imagined some grand explication of scientific theory or a great American novel. I remembered Ray Bradbury in the bowels of an L.A. library tapping away at Fahrenheit 451 on a two-bits per hour public typewriter, and hoped there might be another Bradbury among the 30 or 40 in the Seattle library computer room.

And I thought about books and libraries from the founding fathers to the present, and how we Americans have made libraries a place for everyone and every idea. The fact that libraries have survived through depressions and recessions, through good times and bad, is testament to our better natures. Individually, we might not like welfare or the good legislative deals handed to some business or institution, but we have room in our hearts for this one institution that is an even playing field for college professor and homeless novelist. We fund libraries publicly, and we fund public libraries and specialty libraries with donations and volunteerism. And those of us who accumulate books, papers, films, paintings, photos and related resources in our lives often want them to reach broader audiences and the next Ray Bradbury when we pass, and do all possible to make it happen.

Which brings me back to the Josephy Library of Western History and Culture in Joseph, Oregon. For years volunteer librarian Shannon Maslach has been quietly, on her own time and dime, cataloging our books and papers. She is now joined by Kay Denney, who grew up in Wallowa County, went away to teach and work in school libraries, and recently retired home. She has jumped in to join Shannon and help me in making this library work. Other friends are putting together a kids’ corner, and a local photographer came in to shoot the original maps from Josephy’s Nez Perce book for digitization. And archivists from the University of Idaho have been generous with technical assistance and suggestions for library design.

The generosity began of course with Alvin and Betty, who provided the first books, and to their children, who have stuck with me as I began figuring library things out at Fishtrap and then moved the collection to the new Josephy Center for Arts and Culture in Joseph. Daughter Allison Josephy Wolowitz recently sent us the wonderful oil portraits of her parents (they deserve and will get their own blog post), and along with her siblings made financial contributions to get us going. And now their children, Alvin and Betty’s grandchildren, are doing the same. Others have written checks to make it possible for us to remodel the library space and purchase library furniture, and contractor Charlie Kissinger made cuts on that bill.

And did I mention Lewis and Clark College—special collections librarian Doug Erickson arranged for his college to donate several hundred dollars worth of library shelving, which now hold Josephy books cataloged by volunteer librarians held together by the new bookends.

So thanks to all for contributions and support—and welcome all to see and use, to pass the time of day, chase down quirky family stories, or to write the next great American novel.

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