Alvin M. Josephy: Obituary

Historians in the News

Alvin M. Josephy Jr. was born in New York and died Sunday in Greenwich, Conn., but he always considered Oregon his home.

Josephy titled his 2000 memoir "A Walk Toward Oregon." It was the last book the noted historian and advocate for Native American rights published before his death at age 90, although "Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes," an anthology he edited, is scheduled for publication next year.

Josephy owned a ranch in Joseph at the foot of the Wallowa Mountains and spent part of each year there for more than four decades. He was a founder of the Fishtrap writers' gathering at Wallowa Lake and often hosted events at his ranch.

Josephy's life is full of extraordinary events -- he was a war hero, a reporter who interviewed Leon Trotsky in Mexico, a screenwriter in Hollywood, an editor at Time magazine and American Heritage -- but he is best known as the author of numerous books about Native American history and culture. His many books include "The Patriot Chiefs," "The Indian Heritage of America" and the epic "500 Nations: A History of North American Indians."

When he was an editor at Time magazine in the 1950s, Josephy was in Idaho looking for a story and learned about Chief Joseph and the flight of the Nez Perce from the U.S. Army in the 1870s. In an interview with The Oregonian, conducted on Sept. 11, 2001, Josephy said Chief Joseph's story changed his life.

"I knew nothing about it when I started," Josephy said. "I just knew it was a great story, the most dramatic story of the early West. I spent 12 years learning about it, and when I started, there weren't too many other people writing about Indians. Books about Indians were shelved in the natural history section of the bookstore, along with books about snails and dinosaurs, that sort of thing. I couldn't believe it."

"The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest" made Josephy a national authority on Native American history and won him the admiration of many tribal leaders. He went on to become involved in the Native American rights movement of the 1960s and '70s and edited "Red Power: The American Indians' Fight for Freedom" (1971), one of the first books about the American Indian Movement. It was updated in 1999.

Josephy was proud of his involvement with the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. He was founding chairman of the museum and its director, W. Richard West, said "We feel his presence every day . . . his imprimatur is on every aspect of the museum."

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