More than one hundred Indian tribes in fifteen language groups
inhabited the area of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Western
Montana in the nineteenth century. This important work, the first
composite history of the region's native inhabitants, covers the
period roughly from 1750 to 1900, from the first white contacts to
the aftermath of the Dawes Act. It is a valuable resource both for
the serious scholars and general readers.
The cultures of the Pacific Northwest tribes were as diverse as
their lands. Coastal peoples, such as the Makahs, hunted whales in
huge wooden canoes thirty-five feet long. Near Puget Sound they
developed an advanced technology and a stylized art in carved wood.
Whites were shocked by the head flattening practiced by some
coastal peoples and by the potlatch ceremony, in which they gave
away their possessions. Farther inland, along the Columbia River,
tribal economies centered around the salmon. The smoked fish was
traded all over the region. On the east the horse transformed the
way of life of the Shoshonis, Nez Perces, Kalispels, and Blackfeet.
Each spring they crossed the Rockies to hunt the buffalo and fight
for control of the hunting territory.
The first whites to enter the Pacific Northwest were Spanish
mariners from the south and British and American traders stopping
for furs on their way to China. Later the British North West
Company and Hudson's Bay Company established trading posts. The
whites brought gimcracks, guns, molasses, tobacco, alcohol, and
disease. They took the pelts of the sea otter, seal, beaver, and
buffalo in return.
Missionaries and settlers followed the traders. Catholic black
robes and Protestants in buckskins competed with mixed success for
the Indian's souls, while at the same time native religions held
sway. Indian religious leaders, such as Spokane Garry and the
Dreamer prophet Smohalla, were almost as important as the fighting
By the 1840s epidemics had cut the Indians' numbers by
two-thirds, . The few who survived were too weak to drive out the
white settlers. Only truly extraordinary individuals could resist
the changes introduced by the whites: the appropriation of
traditional food-gathering and hunting grounds formerly held in
common, the introduction of a cash economy, the demands of
Christianity, confinement on reservations and farms and in schools,
Many extraordinary individuals are portrayed in this history.
The authors have written their account colorfully and movingly from
the Indian point of view, and they effectively present the special
identity of Pacific Northwest Indians.
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