The Modern West
American Landscapes
1890-1950

Out West

THE MASSACRES

In the early 1970s I began to take an interest in the Nez Perce retreat, an effort by this Oregon band of Sahaptin people to reach political asylum in Canada in the summer of 1877. Before they were cornered at an abbreviated range of low hills in north-central Montana, north of the Bears Paw Mountains, an emotionally exhausted and spiritually devastated group of families—they'd left their ancestral lands in the Wallowa Mountains three months before—the Nez Perce had fought off a pursuing U.S. Cavalry force in several skirmishes. As frequently occurs when I begin researching such a subject, I developed a keen interest in visiting some of those sites. Even the most meticulous history of such events, I had found, tends to be deskbound; the why and wherefore of what occurred often become more obvious (and less confabulated) when the real ground, the actual location, becomes a part of what one knows.

One further thing was always on my mind during the days I made my visits: the intractable problem of what one remembers. Who now recalls what happened during those years of warfare? And how does forgetfulness work in the service of illusions of national destiny?

From the essay by Barry Lopez
The Modern West

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Contents © 1966 to current, by
Barry Holstun Lopez. All Rights Reserved.