The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story

The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story

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by Elliott West
     
 

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This newest volume in Oxford's acclaimed Pivotal Moments series offers an unforgettable portrait of the Nez Perce War of 1877, the last great Indian conflict in American history. It was, as Elliott West shows, a tale of courage and ingenuity, of desperate struggle and shattered hope, of short-sighted government action and a doomed flight to freedom. To tell the story

Overview

This newest volume in Oxford's acclaimed Pivotal Moments series offers an unforgettable portrait of the Nez Perce War of 1877, the last great Indian conflict in American history. It was, as Elliott West shows, a tale of courage and ingenuity, of desperate struggle and shattered hope, of short-sighted government action and a doomed flight to freedom. To tell the story, West begins with the early history of the Nez Perce and their years of friendly relations with white settlers. In an initial treaty, the Nez Perce were promised a large part of their ancestral homeland, but the discovery of gold led to a stampede of settlement within the Nez Perce land. Numerous injustices at the hands of the US government combined with the settlers' invasion to provoke this most accomodating of tribes to war. West offers a riveting account of what came next: the harrowing flight of 800 Nez Perce, including many women, children and elderly, across 1500 miles of mountainous and difficult terrain. He gives a full reckoning of the campaigns and battles--and the unexpected turns, brilliant stratagems, and grand heroism that occurred along the way. And he brings to life the complex characters from both sides of the conflict, including cavalrymen, officers, politicians, and--at the center of it all--the Nez Perce themselves (the Nimiipuu, "true people"). The book sheds light on the war's legacy, including the near sainthood that was bestowed upon Chief Joseph, whose speech of surrender, "I will fight no more forever," became as celebrated as the Gettysburg Address. Based on a rich cache of historical documents, from government and military records to contemporary interviews and newspaper reports, The Last Indian War offers a searing portrait of a moment when the American identity--who was and who was not a citizen--was being forged.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A distinguished scholar of American history makes a significant contribution to Oxford's excellent series Pivotal Moments in American History in this definitive analysis of the United States' 1877 war with the Nez Percé. West (The Contested Plains) integrates a broad spectrum of sources to depict the fate of a people whose history of friendship with the U.S. dated to 1805. The Nez Percé were caught up in the questions posed by the Civil War and the period of expansion that followed: "who would be the Americans and what obligations would bind them together?" Such questions influenced Idaho and Oregon, where the Nez Percé lived, as much as Massachusetts and Virginia. The 1877 war, the Nez Percé's epic journey to reach the Canadian border, American conquest and Indian exile is the heart of the book, and West tells it brilliantly. No less compelling is his account of the Nez Percé taking up farming and making and selling Indian trinkets, developing their image as "beloved losers" and negotiating their return home-on white terms, but with honor and integrity upheld. 40 b&w illus., maps. (Apr.)

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Library Journal

West (American history, Univ. of Arkansas; The Contested Plains) uses the story of the Nez Percé War of 1877 and its origins and aftermath to illuminate the era of expansion and consolidation between 1845 and 1877 that forged the American identity, a period he calls the "Greater Reconstruction." Throughout his narrative, which begins with the early history of the Nez Percé and concludes with the death of Chief Joseph in 1904, he focuses on three underlying issues, seeing the Nez Percé from the perspective of the American West: whether a large and diverse republic could stay together, what the extent and limits of centralized authority were, and what were the nature and demands of citizenship. This framework allows the author to tie the specifics of his richly detailed narrative to the much larger national story and to present his characters in all their complexity. Based on extensive research in archival papers, government reports, and contemporary sources, this well-written book is an excellent place to start in understanding the Nez Percé War and is highly recommended for all libraries.
—Stephen H. Peters

Kirkus Reviews
A successful effort to understand both sides of the struggle between a stubbornly unassimilated Pacific Northwest tribe and the white world that steadily encroached on its turf. When Lewis and Clark encountered them in present-day Idaho in 1805, the Nez Perce found white men no mystery, writes West (American History/Univ. of Arkansas; The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado, 1998, etc.). The tribe already yearned for firearms and other attractive but scarce manufactured goods. For decades, they happily traded with trappers and travelers and welcomed missionaries. In the first of many misunderstandings, these religious proselytizers assumed the Nez Perce would discard their culture and become Christian farmers, while the tribe hoped missionaries would increase their worldly well-being. Since they considered themselves good people, the Nez Perce were puzzled efforts to persuade them they were miserable sinners. After 1840, they prospered trading with wagon trains heading for rich Oregon farmland. Most Nez Perce land was infertile, so another decade passed before settlers began moving in. Then followed years of intimidation and worthless treaties that steadily shrank the tribe's territory. Ordered to a reservation outside their lands in 1877, many members refused and took their families, horses and cattle on a legendary 1,500-mile flight toward Canada. The author writes a gripping, nearly day-by-day account of that epic journey, during which hundreds died while outnumbered warriors repeatedly defeated the surprisingly incompetent U.S. Army. Ironically, their flight and bitter surrender produced a wave of admiration across America for the Nez Perce. Theirpurported leader, Chief Joseph, became a national hero, but no one wanted to give back their land, so the tribe returned to its reservation. Histories of American Indians rarely end happily. Skilled storytelling drives an astute examination of a sad, complicated episode.
From the Publisher

"A distinguished scholar of American history makes a significant contribution to Oxford's excellent series Pivotal Moments in American History in this definitive analysis of the United States' 1877 war with the Nez Percé... The 1877 war, the Nez Percé's epic journey to reach the Canadian border, American conquest and Indian exile is the heart of the book, and West tells it brilliantly."--Publishers Weekly starred review

"Elliott West's The Last Indian War illustrates his leadership among western historians... this new volume exhibits West's superb talents as a thoughtful, analytical, and artistic historian at home in the West ... West's book is now the best account we have of the much-discussed Nez Perce War and the role of the Nez Perce leader Joseph in this conflict... But The Last Indian War is much more than another account of the Nez Perce War. If read carefully and thoughtfully, West's benchmark volume will force general and specialist readers to reconfigure American history of the mid-nineteenth century... In short, The Last Indian War is a major work of both revision and narration. Western as well as American historians will find West's volume of first importance in rethinking the mid-nineteenth century. Quite simply, West's premier book is worthy of all the accolades and major prizes it will garner."--Richard W. Etulain, Journal of American History

"Gripping...Skilled storytelling drives an astute examination of a sad, complicated episode."--Kirkus Reviews

"It is fascinating history, well-documented... West follows every step of that journey, stressing how the stark contrast between two cultures cultivated misunderstandings that festered into war. That theme becomes a drumbeat as he scrutinizes every detail of the Nez Perce war, flight, capture and exile."--Tacoma News Tribune

"This is an excellent study of the relations between whites and the Nez Perce tribe, with emphasis on the 1877 war."--True West magazine

"Based on extensive research in archival papers, government reports, and contemporary sources, this well-written book is an excellent place to start in understanding the Nez Perce War and is highly recommended for all libraries."--Library Journal

"Using historical documents, from government and military records to contemporary interviews and newspaper reports, 'The Last Indian War' offers a portrait of emerging American identity - when the idea of who was and who was not a citizen was being forged...Complex characters on both sides of the following battles are brought to life. The book sheds light on the war's legacy, including the near sainthood bestowed upon Chief Joseph."--Lewiston Tribune

"No one writes Western history better than Elliott West. Here he puts the Nez Perce story into the broad context of U.S. national integration while retaining its vivid specificity. A gripping account for both academic and general audiences."--Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

"In Elliott West's skilled hands, the plangent tale of Chief Joseph and the great hegira of his people comes to immediate life on the page." --Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder

"Powerful and elegant, informative and highly readable, Elliott West's The Last Indian War is one of the most distinguished works on its subject to appear in 30 years. Its core is a fascinating account of how some 800 Nez Perce outwitted the U.S. Army over a 1500-mile retreat. Indians and white army officers, soldiers, politicians and local settlers-all become flesh and blood, revealing not only West's profound understanding of Indian culture but his ability to put them within the context our national history as it was becoming a modern industrial nation."--Howard R. Lamar, Sterling Professor Emeritus of History, Yale University

"With his extraordinary gifts for conveying the character of the people of the past and for untangling--but never over-simplifying--the most complex of stories, Elliott West uncovers the unifying patterns in the Civil War and the Indian Wars, the Reconstruction of the South and the incorporation of the West."--Patricia Nelson Limerick, Center of the American West, University of Colorado

"No one has ever told the story of the Nez Perce so compellingly and so movingly-and many have told it. Even more impressively, West makes this wry, tragic, and deeply humane volume a window onto the wider changes transforming the United States. His idea of a Greater Reconstruction provides a framework for future histories of the era."--Richard White, Professor of History, Stanford University

"In West's sweeping narrative, the destinies of Nez Perce warriors and American officers entwine as they struggle for mastery of some of the continent's choice land. In the hands of one of our greatest western historians, the last Indian war is no longer an isolated event on the edge of American history, but goes to the heart of the central question of just who was welcome in modern America, and under what terms."--Heather Cox Richardson, author of West From Appomattox

"The Nez Perces never wanted war and their history was embedded in the glorious and forbidding geography of the high country of Idaho and Montana for a millennia. Elliott West, one of the most versatile and distinguished historians of the American West, tells this riveting epic story of land, greed, race, and warfare. All whites are not villains and all Indians are not heroic in this saga; but the tragedy of the pursuit and destruction of Chief Joseph and his people by the relentless logic of war is rooted in a U.S. government policy of conquest and racial dominance that we must still reckon with today. This book will make readers weep and then enrich and haunt their imaginations forever."--David W. Blight, Yale University, author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

"Perceptive and poignant."--The Oregonian

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199831036
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
05/27/2011
Series:
Pivotal Moments in American History
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
147,502
File size:
6 MB

Meet the Author

Elliott West is Professor of American History at the University of Arkansas.

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