Thunder In The Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard, And The Nez Perce War
- American History
1 Member Credit
Waking from the American dream
Review by Clyde A. Milner II
In less than a year, a set of substantial books, all selected for the History Book Club, have allowed readers to reconsider major aspects of the nineteenth-century American West. Thunder in the Mountains by Daniel J. Sharfstein deserves to be included with these works that start with Paul Andrew Hutton and The Apache Wars, include John Mack Faragher's examination of violence in frontier Los Angeles, extend to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's assessment of the lives of Mormon women in polygamy, and culminate with Custer's Trials by T. J. Stiles that received the Pulitzer Prize. In many ways, Sharfstein's book best parallels what Stiles did with Custer's military career. He looks at the dramatic story of the Nez Perce War in the larger context of the lives of Chief Joseph and General Oliver Otis Howard.
For most readers, Chief Joseph is the better-known figure especially because of the fame given his surrender speech in 1877 that proclaimed in Joseph's later retelling, "From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more." Indeed, General Howard found that in subsequent decades his public life seemed yoked to that of his former Nez Perce adversary. As late as 1904, Howard and Joseph both spoke at the graduation ceremony at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Sharfstein recounts this poignant scene and many other remarkable episodes. The book begins with Howard's participation in the Civil War battle of Fair Oaks on June 1, 1862 where he will lose his right arm. The story then jumps to La Grande, Oregon on July 4, 1872 where Joseph and his brother Ollokot introduce themselves to the white settlers of the community. The narrative continues along these parallel but often entwined paths. In April, 1875, Howard now living in Portland, Oregon and in command of the army's Department of the Columbia will make an inspection tour of eastern Oregon where he first meets Joseph face-to-face.
Eventually the desperate flight of the Nez Perce from their beloved homeland and the extraordinary set of battles that follow provide the core of this book. During and after the war, two other figures, the Nez Perce warrior Yellow Wolf and the young army officer Charles Erskine Scott Wood, become important in Sharfstein's account. Each man lived well into the twentieth century and each was deeply affected by what Yellow Wolf called "the war we did not want." Sharfstein makes clear the impact of the Nez Perce War for those swept up in its violence as well as for others who agonized over the fate of Chief Joseph and his people.
"One of the epic tales of American history, rendered by a master storyteller. Daniel Sharfstein breathes new life into the fascinating figures at the heart of the Nez Perce War."-Karl Jacoby, author of The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire
"Beautifully wrought and impossible to put down, Daniel Sharfstein's Thunder in the Mountains chronicles with compassion and grace that resonant past we should never forget."-Brenda Wineapple, author of Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877
"Daniel Sharfstein offers a searing account of an American tragedy: how Oliver Otis Howard, a champion for the rights of freed slaves, became an architect of the dispossession and subjugation of Native people. This beautifully written book will change the way readers think about the era of Civil War and Reconstruction."-Ari Kelman, author of A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek
"Revelatory and riveting."-Gregory P. Downs, University of California–Davis, author of After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War
About the Author: Daniel J. Sharfstein is a professor of law and history at Vanderbilt University and a 2013 Guggenheim Fellow. He has written for the Yale Law Journal, The New York Times, The Economist, and The Washington Post, and is the author of The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America, winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Prize.
About the Reviewer: Clyde A. Milner II is professor of history emeritus at Arkansas State University and a visiting scholar at the University of New Mexico.
Additional Book Details
|Release Date:||April 4, 2017|