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Abstract

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce died in exile on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State in 1904, after being rebuffed on two trips to Wallowa County, Oregon, to convince the local citizenry to allow him to buy land. He asked to be allowed to live out his days in the “land of winding waters” that held the bones of his father and his people. Denied, he lived out his days on the Colville, befriended by University of Washington professor Edmond Meany, and famously photographed by Meany’s friend, Edward Sheriff Curtis. A few short years after that Wallowa visit, living in a tipi on the Colville Reservation, Chief Joseph—Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt—“died of a broken heart.” The New York Sun announced that “the most famous Indian in America” was gone.

In 1965, Alvin M. Josephy Jr.’s Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest brought Joseph and the Nez Perce back to national attention. While working on that book, Josephy and his family fell in love with the Wallowa Country and bought a small ranch. Throughout his long working career, boxes of books and research material would be packed and shipped from the Josephy home in Greenwich, Connecticut to Joseph, Oregon, and then back the other way. The Josephy Library is based on material from those home libraries in Greenwich and Joseph, with special attention to Josephy’s own writings and to the history and culture of Indians and the West.

The library is housed in the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture on Main Street in the town of Joseph (“Joseph” and “Josephy” are only accidentally and serendipitously related). We tell the Nez Perce story—and other stories of Indian and Western history—with books and journals, guest speakers, blog posts, private conversations and presentations to local students, residents, guests, and groups from across the world.

Author Biography

Rich Wandschneider came to the Wallowa Country in 1971, after five years as a Peace Corps Volunteer and staff member in Turkey and Washington D.C. In Wallowa County, he worked for the OSU Extension Service for five years, then opened an Enterprise bookstore, the Bookloft, where he met Alvin and Betty Josephy.

In 1988 Alvin, Kim Stafford, Peter Sears, and Rich launched Fishtrap. Over his 20 years as director, Fishtrap brought hundreds of Oregon and Northwest writers and readers together in conferences, workshops, retreats, and residencies. The Bookloft turned 40 under owner Mary Swanson, and Fishtrap lives on under current director Shannon McNerney, still bringing the best writers in the West to Northeast Oregon.

In 2008, Wandschneider stepped aside as Fishtrap director to work on the library project that Alvin, who had become mentor and friend, left on his passing. In addition to the normal build-a-library tasks, the job includes exploring, promoting, and extending the work and legacy of Alvin Josephy. In 2015, longtime Josephy friend and editor Marc Jaffe and Wandschneider put together a Josephy reader for Vintage Books, The Longest Trail: Writings on American Indian History, Culture, and Politics. The book is intended to be an introduction to American Indian studies for students and for lay readers who want to understand what has been misunderstood or neglected completely in the standard narrative of American history. A library blog, workshops and talks by Indian artists and elders bring additional attention to this work.

Wandschneider has served on boards at Oregon Humanities, Friends of William Stafford, and the Wallowa Nez Perce Homeland project. He has written a regular column for the Wallowa County Chieftain for 30 years, and published essays and stories in High Country News, the Oregonian, Oregon Humanities Magazine, and others. Currently his most important work is raising two grandkids, now aged 17 and 18.

Copyright statement

© 2017 OLA

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