Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Guest blogger--Summer Intern Erik Anderson

Guest blogger today is Erik Anderson, our Josephy Library Summer Intern from Whitman College in nearby Walla Walla, Washington. For those of you out of the area--not in the "Inland Northwest," Walla Walla was the place where Marcus and Narcissa Whitman established their mission in 1836, the site of the Whitman Massacre in 1847, and of Governor Isaac Stevens' treaty making in 1855. Walla Walla, Washington is about a two hour drive over the Blue Mountains from Joseph, Oregon, and Whitman College is a fine institution with its own great archival treasures relating to the history of the West--Indian, non-Indian, and the more inclusive histories of the region. 

Take it away, Erik!

“Interpretations of the phrase ‘usual and accustomed place,’” I told Rich during my initial interview, “was normal dinner conversation growing up.”  My father used the language of treaties every day during his work, advocating and managing the treaty fisheries of Western Washington. I grew up in the shadow of the Northwest Fishing War.  The pictures of  a young Billy Frank being arrested on the banks of the Nisqually stood outside of Dad’s office, a reminder of history that I studied every “take your child to work day.” Apparently, the study and practice of advocacy for American Indians runs in the family.     

However, my childhood absorption of the politics of Indian rights did not fully prepare me for this work.  Before coming to the library, I was under the illusion that there was a divide between the histories of American Indians and a history of (white) America, that the history of the interactions between Anglo-Americans and American Indians could be summarized by a simple timeline: first there were diseases and massacres, and then treaties were signed by both parties, and after that most of the  treaties were broken, and finally in 1974 Judge Bolt gave a surprise court ruling.  More generally, I assumed, like the general public, that settling of the west was a steady and stable process, the interaction between whites and Indians limited to army skirmishes and missionizing attempts. 

Yet as I catalog the collection, handling each book, taking special notes of inscriptions by the author or notes scribbled in the margins, I realize that the history of American Indians cannot be separated from any other part of American history, or indeed, any part of our culture.   

According to the Library of Congress System, books related to Indians are located towards the beginning of American History:

E 51-73..........Pre-Columbian America
E 75-99..........Indians of North America
E 81-83..........Indian wars
E 99..........Indian tribes and cultures

However, for example, I can pick out a book from HE (transportation and communication) that deals with the development of railroads in the West and find new information about the often excoriating history of large railroad corporations’ abuse of local tribes, or how surveyors for the railroads were some of the first to conduct ethnographic surveys of the tribes; ethnographies which are now essential for historical and cultural documentation.   

All the books are related. One citation leads to another, until, stepping back, it is possible look at the broad and interconnected history.

The Josephy Library, though built around the personal collection of a historian who is primarily concerned with the affairs of American Indians, is not an Indian library. That would require an impossible separation.  Instead, the books are records of complex and compelling interactions between cultures.  

*  *  *

To access our catalog, go to http://catalog.sage.eou.edu/eg/opac/home?locg=1, then scroll down the right hand drop down list of libraries to Wallowa County Special Libraries - Josephy Library of Western History and Culture. You can also search for books at all SAGE libraries--over 70 libraries in Eastern Oregon.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lakota and Dakota—unfortunate “canaries” in Indian America

Alvin Josephy once noted that when the American Government wanted to show off our country to the world, it used images of Plains Indians, splendid in feathered headdresses and riding horses. It matched the image of Indians carried by most non-Indian Americans—omitting the hundreds of tribes and cultures of farming, hunting, gathering, and fishing Indians that the Europeans encountered on arrival. And putting them on European horses.

Sadly and ironically, these iconic Indians were Lakota, or Dakota, known collectively as Sioux—and, historically, some of the most hounded and abused tribal people in America!

In the early days of the Civil War, the Dakota—four major bands of Siouxian Indians—were squeezed onto smaller and smaller reservations along the Minnesota River, and promised commodities and annuity payments by solemn treaty in exchange for the hunting, farming, and gathering grounds taken from them by white settlers. Federal Indian agents and a Minnesota governor skimmed and stole their fair treaty awards, and some Indians revolted, indiscriminately  killing white settlers, launching a war against white settlement.

It was all futile—local troops were enlisted and others diverted from the Civil War in the East, and most of the Dakota were chased west, where they joined Lakota brothers and sisters. But many were rounded up in Minnesota, and a “military commission” sentenced 307 Indians and half-breeds (who were largely assimilated but had become caught up in the action) to be hanged. President Lincoln delayed the hanging, and had charges against each Indian reviewed. But 38 were hanged in what is still the largest public execution in our history.

Mass grave at Wounded Knee
For the next 30 years the bands of Lakota and Dakota dodged settlers, gold miners, Custer’s regiment, and waves of federal troops. In the end, famous Indian leaders Crazy Horse, Big Foot, and Sitting Bull were killed, and, in the winter of 1890, a group of 350 hungry Miniconjou and Hunkpapa Sioux, including many women and children, were attacked with Hotchkiss machine guns—at least 150 of them were massacred and put in a mass grave, and the military campaigns against Indians drew to a close.

The Plains Indians are in trouble again, as noted in a stinging editorial in the July 23 New York Times:

“It’s an old American story: malign policies hatched in Washington leading to pain and death in Indian country. It was true in the 19th century. It is true now, at a time when Congress, heedless of its solemn treaty obligations to Indian tribes, is allowing the across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester to threaten the health, safety and education of Indians across the nation…

“In signing treaties with Indian nations in return for land, the federal government promised a wide array of life-sustaining services. One of the most important is the Indian Health Service, which serves about two million people on reservations and is grossly underfinanced even in good times…

“On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the tribal police force, facing cumulative budget cuts of 14 percent, or more than $1 million, has let 14 officers go. Its nine patrol cars are already pitifully inadequate for policing a 2.8-million-acre reservation plagued by poverty, joblessness, youth gangs, suicide, alcoholism and methamphetamine addiction. The tribe is cutting a program that serves meals to the housebound elderly. Its schools and Head Start program are cutting back. On a reservation with a chronic and worsening shortage of homes, where families double up in flimsy trailers without running water or electricity, a housing-improvement program with a 1,500-family waiting list was shut down. There were 100 suicide attempts in 110 days on Pine Ridge, officials there said, but the reservation is losing two mental-health providers because of the sequester.

“Byron Dorgan, the retired United States senator from North Dakota who founded the Center for Native American Youth, demanded in an Op-Ed article in The Times that Congress hold hearings to examine its broken treaty promises and develop a plan for restitution. He said it should exempt Indian country from sequestration. He is right. Where the deficit zealots see virtue, we see moral failure.”

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Indian Frybread

We went to Tamkaliks—the powwow in Wallowa—last night, and of course had to have a piece of frybread. As I watched one woman stretching dough and plopping it into two grease-filled cast iron pots, another woman turn it in the oil, and two men—father and son, it looked like—serve up  the platters of Indian tacos and plain frybread that we dowsed with sugar and honey, I thought about Indian treaties and commodity foods. I know, I’ve been reading too much Josephy and am steeped in the stories of broken treaties, wars, removal, extermination, assimilation—but also the stories of Indian resilience and the miracle of new world tribal survival. And fry bread has its place in all that. 

My friend, the writer Luis Urrea, has a wonderful piece in Hummingbird’s Daughter—that he can recite from memory in four minutes—called “God in a taco.” Maybe it was an “Indian taco.” And that fictional account of wars and spiritual quests in northern Mexico in the late nineteenth century follows on Kit Carson’s scorching and burning of Navajo lands and killing of sheep and stock and the “Long  Walk” in 1863 that took some of them—thousands died on the trail—to a cramped Fort Sumner at Bosque Redondo, New Mexico, where, according to the Navajo and the Smithsonian Magazine, Indian fry bread was born.

Their crops and stock gone, the Indians were starving, and government supplies of lard, flour, salt, sugar, baking powder or yeast, and powdered milk were often rancid. Frybread came from these few foods provided during the four years of Navajo captivity at Bosque Redondo.  That was 150 years ago, and Indian writer Sherman Alexie now says that “frybread is the story of our survival.”

I think frybread must have flowed across Indian country as the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act loosened restrictions on Indian religious and cultural celebrations, and made intertribal gatherings possible. Since that time, and especially since the time of Red Power in the 1970s, powwows and Indian art and literature have knit the people of different tribes and regions of the country together, so that a character in Alexie’s  “Smoke Signals” wears a t-shirt that says “Frybread Power” and Indians across the country can identify.

It sets Alexie against Indian activist Suzan Shown Harjo, who led a crusade against frybread a few years ago, claiming that it was stealing Indian children with diabetes and obesity.

Which brings me back to Josephy, Indian treaties, and commodity foods. The Carson campaign occurs in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, but earlier in the War, in 1862, there were commodity food incidents in Minnesota, where Indians rebelled after their promised reservations kept shrinking and promised commodities—they too were starving after traditional growing, hunting, and gathering grounds were given over to white settlers—were skimmed by Indian agents and white traders. The commodities listed in Josephy’s account were flour and lard. So Indians were having to replace wild rice, berries, maple, and game with white flour and lard!

I tried to find the first treaties that promised food. It was a cursory look, and I will keep hunting for accounts, but at first glance it appears that until the Civil War and the pushing of Indians further west—including the Removal Act of 1830—white government always assumed that there would be land and game and that Indians could somehow—outside of the ken of whites—take care of themselves. But Minnesota homesteading—that Act passed in 1862—made it impossible to dodge the fact that shrinking Indian lands was starving them. And later Civil War incidents in the further West—including the massacres at Sand Creek and Bear River—all had to do with shrinking Indians’ land holdings and starvation. 

The apex of that terrible policy might have been Kit Carson’s campaign, or it might have been the deliberate killing of the buffalo that accompanied the conquering of the Plains Indians. It was all ugly.

So frybread is a kind of middle finger at the white world—“this is what you left us; well, we will survive on it”—and it has become a symbol of Indian unification across tribal boundaries. But it is also, as Harjo pointed out, a symbol and a fact of the short end of the treaties dealt Indians—the exchange of healthy foods and ways of life for lives of dependence and white people’s diseases. Like many things in Indian Country, complex and many-sided.

For more on frybread, its origins and stories, the Smithsonian piece is here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/frybread.html

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Rail Routes West

For folks with a keen interest in Western history, our Josephy Library is a small treasure ground. And like any treasure field, the prizes show up almost at random.

Summer intern Erik Anderson, a bibliophile and student of Don Snow’s at Whitman College, suggested I take a look at this one yesterday. He guessed that it was one of our rarer holdings.

And I think he’s right: Volume VI of the Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economic Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, a twelve-volume mammoth undertaking exploring four prospective railroad routes to the Pacific, made by the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers to the Secretary of War, published between 1855 and 1860.

Volume VI is the report of Lt. Henry Abbot on potential railroad routes from Sacramento Valley to the Columbia River. At the time, this was one of the best government documents relating the natural history of the far west, including five lithographs of fossil shells and a color lithograph of a Ponderosa pine.  

Our copy came from Grace Bartlett, and to her, presumably from her father, Robert Sawyer, one-time editor-publisher of the Bend Bulletin and chair of the State’s Highway Department. In a biographical sketch from the Bulletin that I have saved somewhere, Sawyer is listed as one of the 50 most influential Oregonians of the first half of the twentieth century. His story, and Grace’s story—Grace was Wallowa County’s de facto resident historian for many years, the author of many historical essays and the book, The Wallowa Country, 1867-77, and was the first curator of the Wallowa County Museum—are interesting and significant in their own rights. But we leave that for another day.

Reading Josephy on the Civil War in the West, I realize just how important the issue of rail routes was in the run-up to the War. Southern Senators pressed for a southern route, hoping to pick up a slave-state along the way. They were encouraged by sympathies in Southern California, and the new New Mexico territory, recently “gained” from Mexico. Free-staters pushed for Central or Northern routes and a Homestead Act, with hopes for more free states, Congressional and Presidential votes, and, probably, with some early vision of manifest destiny that would carry the country—progressively—to the Pacific.

And all had an eye on Western gold. That prize would go to the Union—without the railroad—and one wonders how big an impact Western gold had on the economies of North and South and War’s outcome.

There is a fine web site with descriptions of the twelve-volume railroad route work at http://www.cprr.org/Museum/Pacific_RR_Surveys/

I am especially interested in Volume XII, with Governor Isaac Steven’s accounts of explorations for a route along the 47-49th parallels. Stevens wore so many hats—Territorial Governor, Indian Agent, and Rail Route Surveyor—but the impact of his treaty making, which I am sure he saw in terms of service to the grander goal of route to the Pacific, is what stays with us and influences events down to this day.

Back to our copy—Sawyer’s copy, and then Grace’s copy—of Volume VI of the work. It describes a side route, a line that would link California and the Northwest. But the study includes very early botanical, zoological, and geographical information of the region. As an added bonus, our copy includes notes, made by Sawyer in the late 1920s or early 30s, identifying early place names and their modern equivalents, painstakingly hand-copied into the margins of the book by his daughter.    

# # #