Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Early photos of Chief Joseph



Goff photo used by Bartlett
Ann Hayes, the late Grace Bartlett’s daughter, came by with a folder full of photos and clippings from her mother’s papers (which are being cataloged by Shannon Maslach). We were looking for originals –or at least good prints—of photos used in Grace’s small booklet on the Wallowas.  Ann wants to reprint, and we want to improve the quality of the photos.

Among the material was information on some of the early photos of Chief Joseph. The one Grace used in her booklet, which she reproduced “courtesy of Mrs. L.R. Hamblen of Spokane,” is in fact one of the earliest photos of Joseph, and although there was for some time controversy about the photographer, there seems to be general agreement now that it was Orlando Goff.

But there was another bit of information in Grace’s files about another photographer, John Fouch, who had set up a photo shop at Fort Keogh MT shortly before the arrival of the Nez Perce prisoners. Two photos of Chief Joseph and reference to an article in American Heritage popped up on the internet. The American Heritage article, from November of 1992, was written by a collector named James Brust, who had found a stereoscopic photo of the Custer Battlefield, tracked it to Fouch, then tracked Fouch to living relatives, and turned up a set of photos of Indians taken in the late 1870s. 

Fouch photo on Nerburn book
I had seen one of the photos before, on the cover of the paperback edition of Kent Nerburn’s book, Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce. It’s a haunting photo, Joseph with sad but still strong eyes, fur wrapped around his braids, a shirt that is identified elsewhere as Crow—either a previous gift or one loaned to him for the photo, and hair brushed up in traditional Nez Perce style, showing white in the photo. Was it colored? Or is this a trick of the photo?

Interestingly, there is no attribution of the photo in the book. Was this an oversight—or done intentionally? It appears on the Smithsonian web site that Brust holds a copy—maybe the only copy—of the original, but has sent copies of the Fouch photos he found to the Smithsonian. 

I am not about to chase after the details regarding theses early photos of Joseph. For me it is important to note that they are probably the first photos of him, and that they were taken soon after the surrender, when he was still in his thirties. The more common photos of Joseph were taken much later—E.S. Curtis in 1900 I believe—after he had fought and grieved for the Wallowa Homeland for almost a quarter century. 

Fouch photo


Friday, October 4, 2013

Thomas King, G.A. Custer, Lois Riel, David Thompson…..



Years and years ago, novelist Thomas King came to Fishtrap. Alvin Josephy had met him at a Sun Valley conference and recommended him as a reader and conversationalist. 

King ran for office in Guelph
King, tall, handsome, wearing a good white Stetson as I recall, lived up to promise, and two of his novels, Medicine River and Green Grass Running Water, remain personal favorites. I kept meaning to invite him back to Fishtrap—but he kept getting further away, going from the University of Minnesota to the University of Guelph, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, where he is a professor of English today. He also has a radio show, “The Dead Dog Cafe Hour,” on CBC, and has written extensively on Indian issues on both sides of the border.

King was born in California, and his ancestors were Cherokee, Greek, and German, but he has managed to absorb Indian history and culture across national boundaries and written with authority on contemporary political issues involving American Tribes and Canadian “First Nations” since the 1980s.

This straddling of borders interests me, because I am beginning to think that some US history—and especially tribal history—has been forgotten and much distorted by national boundaries. National boundaries that were non-existent for millennia before there was a United States, and fluid for a couple of hundred years after our Revolutionary War.

I’m half way through King’s new non-fiction book called The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People of North America. It turns out that boundaries were indeed fluid—and that the lands within what is now Canada were often as contested and battle-filled, treatied and treaty broken, as our own Western lands. In an early chapter, he wonders why George Armstrong Custer, who “made a sophomoric military mistake and got himself killed,” remains an American icon while Louis Riel, whose life roughly parallels Custer, and who helped carve and form a provisional Metis government in former Rupert’s Land, was overthrown by pro-English sided Canadian troops, escaped to the US, returned to lead a Metis uprising, and was finally captured and hanged, gets no such space in our history.

The argument is interesting—Custer was White, Riel Indian; more importantly, we tell our history with Indians as the impediments to inexorable and inevitable westward movement, though, ironically, without Indian help in case after case after case, westward movement would have been much more difficult at best. Indians got in Custer’s way; Riel got in the way of white English speakers.

More interesting to me is how little we—Americans of the US variety—know about our cousins to the north. We have only foggy notions of Rupert’s Land, and how Canada emerged out of a British royal land grant and feuds and wars between the British and the French on both sides of the Atlantic. And we don’t know about Riel because it’s Canada and very few of us even know about the Metis! (although some of them are on our side of the border and have captured the attention of a Montana mystery writer named Peter Bowen, who has a Metis protagonist named Gabriel Du Pre).

We don’t pay much attention to the fur trade because the lands were trapped out and the Hudson’s Bay Company had won out over American fur companies well before white settlers arrived in the territory, and it all kind of ended up on that side of the border. As did David Thompson, North West Fur Company trader who traveled the entire length of the Columbia River and arrived at its mouth just behind the Astor party in 1811, who surveyed much of the Columbia River country and huge chunks of the US-Canada border. Josephy wrote about him, and there is a wonderful book called Sources of the River, which traces his journeys, but we don’t pay Thompson much attention in our US historical narrative.

Thank you Tom King for filling me in a little on these Indian issues across borders. I am going to track you down and invite you back to the Wallowas to hear more!