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Chief Joseph & the Flight of the Nez Perce: The Untold Story of an American Tragedy Hardcover – October 25, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nerburn (Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder) brings balanced passion to this popular history of the man best known for his sad speech signaling his tribe's surrender at the end of an 1,800-mile retreat from their homeland in Oregon: "I will fight no more forever." Nerburn's novelistic chronicle moves from the kind welcome Lewis and Clark receive from the Nez Percé in 1805 to General O.O. Howard's May 1877 order for the tribespeople to move onto a reservation in Idaho within 30 days. The author follows chiefs Joseph, Ollokot, Looking Glass and White Bird through their armed resistance to Howard's order, their torturous six-month flight toward Canada and their final surrender to U.S. forces just 50 miles away from the Canadian border. Subsequently relocated to several reservations, the tribe was decimated in numbers, culture and spirit, and Joseph's efforts in the 1880s to regain legal ownership of his rightful land, Wallowa Valley, Ore., came to naught. While Joseph's symbolic importance as "America's premier Indian" bloomed, the actual Nez Percé dwindled toward extinction. Nerburn sets out to bust the myth of the "Red Napoleon" in this engaging volume, but his characterization of Joseph's "compassionate leadership" can lean toward stereotyping of a different sort: the noble and tragic Native American in defeat. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

Among numerous biographies of Chief Joseph describing the Nez Perce retreat in 1877 from their home in Oregon's Wallowa Valley and their ultimate capture just miles south of Canada, Nerburn offers a somewhat different slant. After the council at Lapwai (Idaho), near their home, conflict arose within the tribe between those bands who had signed the 1855 treaty, and those who had not, those who wanted to move to the reservation lands they were offered at Lapwai, and those who wanted to fight for their right to return home to their beloved Wallowa Valley. According to Nerburn, U.S. Army General Oliver Otis Howard assumes that Joseph is the military leader of all the nontreaty bands, when in fact, "the Nez Perce were anything but Joseph's people," and Joseph was "barely listened to at all." Nerburn concludes that Joseph's role as the preeminent war-loving chief was emphasized by General Howard because "a strong enemy makes an opposing commander look good." An intriguing twist to a legendary saga, which is sure to encourage rebuttal. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; First Edition edition (October 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060513012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060513016
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #529,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

It is easy reading because it reads like a story or a novel.
Davis Johnson
My ignorance was probably an advantage because every time I'd put the book down, I'd come right back to it wanting to find out what was going to happen next.
Amazon Customer
The events are historically accurate, but presented as a great story by a great story teller.
Larry Shaw

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Adrian P. Schoone on January 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As one who has visited the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana on virtually an annual basis for almost 50 years, I recognize that by going to the physical source of his subject, Dr. Nerburn has captured the spirit of the Nez Perce saga. Past biographies of Joseph such as Beal, I Will Fight No More Forever: Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War (1973), fail to disclose that he was hardly a Napoleonic war leader, but rather the caretaker of his tribe during their crisis. Similarly, earlier efforts to describe the Nez Perce fell short in explaining the importance of their Appaloosa horse breeding to tribal pride. As an owner of such equines, I understand how unique is that breed in terms of stamina and courage.

In short, the author, through his four years of meaningful interaction with the Nez Perce of today, coupled with intensive academic research of such record as exists of their history, has presented a fair, realistic portrayal of a veritable sin committed by the then government of our country, crying out for atonement even today.

Adrian P. Schoone

6220 Partridge Hills Dr.

Racine, WI 53406
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Debby Lynn on November 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I devoured this new book about Chief Joseph and even took notes on it...some inspiring things I wanted to remember, as well as some convicting things I must never forget. I have read other works about the Nez Perce and, in fact, I live in the Pacific Northwest and have visited many of the areas related to this part of history. But, I have never heard or read some of the things that Mr. Nerburn includes in his book. They are real and intimate and raw...and clearly tell "the rest of the story". I was sad when I finished a very honest friend had to stop our very wonderful interaction. I will keep my copy and read it again and reference it often. I have read several of Mr. Nerburn's books...his voice resonates with my own. I highly recommend all of his work, but at this moment I would encourage everyone to get a fresh and vivid look at this man, Joseph, and his people by reading this book. You won't regret it.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Larry Shaw on December 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The flight of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce in the 1800's is told with love and great skill by Kent Nerburn in his new book. The events are historically accurate, but presented as a great story by a great story teller. It's history that reads like a novel. I felt like I was there with the soldiers in the frozen North as they pursued the small band who desired only the freedom to live as their creator intended. I was there with the Nez Perce as their elders and children died one by one during the tragic flight. I felt their pain and suffering. I recommend this book highly to anyone not satisfied with the history as it was taught to us in our schools, and who desire the true story of this sad chapter in the story of the American West. I say thanks to Mr. Nerburn for this fascinating and absorbing labor of love. Five Stars.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Martin Quotaine on December 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I am an avid reader of history and biography. I am especially interested in Native Americans and other indigenous people. Their stories have been told by non-Native people for years, usually poorly or with a very European bias. Either the authors have no sensitivity to the native world view or they romanticize the Native people. It is rare when an author gives us a picture of a different world in a way that feels authentic. Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce by Kent Nerburn feels authentic. I feel like I am there on the Nez Perce flight.

I was familiar with this author's work from his novel, Neither Wolf nor Dog, which is one of my favorite books about Native people. So I expected a good read. But I didn't expect a book of such historical accuracy and narrative power.

Nerburn gives us a real story of real people caught in history's web. He doesn't fictionalize but his work reads like a great work of fiction. This is something I associate with only the best authors.

Too many authors forget the "story" part of "history". This book doesn't make that mistake. One of my pet peeves is when a writer stands back and tells me how to think. Nerburn just tells me the story. He takes us into events like we are there.

I wish he would have spent more time on Joseph's later life. He gives us tantalizing anecdotes about Joseph meeting Buffalo Bill and Joseph's sad speech in Seattle. But he doesn't go into the kind of detail he does in other places. Where he goes into detail he is one of the best historical writers I have ever read. His recreation of the seige and surrender at the Bear Paw mountains should be required reading for every historical writer.

This should be required reading for all those people buying books about the Founding Fathers. It would open their eyes.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Marian W. Trotter on December 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. In vivid detail, Kent Nerburn, in his "Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce," fulfills his promise to show Chief Joseph's true greatness, which myth has obscured, eventually rendering the great man what the author aptly describes as a kind of "hood ornament."

When the U.S. military captured the Nez Perce, other chiefs fled. Joseph stayed with and cared for his bands during their circuitous, grueling travels as prisoners of the U.S. government, while the President and military officials decided how inexpensively they could house the Nez Perce from then on.

Joseph, already a myth in the eyes of the U.S. populace as the leader of the Nez Perce tribe's masterly escape from the "best that the U.S. military had to offer," used his fame to advocate for his bands before Presidents and Congress. Although feted and celebrated, he failed to get adequate results. He was unaware that Indian genocide was being considered.

This is the most horrific account of displacement I have ever encountered. A huge number of Nez Perce died on route, particularly the elderly and the very young, sickened by starvation and killed by white diseases to which they had no immunity.

"Chief Joseph" took place during Reconstruction following the Civil War, a time when government resources were lacking and nerves worn. Soldiers and officers assigned to the Indian front typically lacked basic military skills and the experience necessary to handle Indians with sensitivity and tact.

I recommend this book to people who like history that is presented as narrative, offering the kind of momentum and characterization that you find in novels.
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