Chief Joseph: War Chief of the Nez Perce Summary
Most nineteenth-century frontier literature created a negative stereotype of Native Americans, portraying them either as noble savages or as amoral villains. Both extreme characterizations, developed in such works as James Fenimore Cooper's Leather stocking Tales (1823-1841), Francis Parkman's The Oregon Trail (1849), and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha (1855), perpetuated the myth that Native Americans were not only less than American; they were less than human.
But, like other works of the past few decades such as Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Evan Connell's Son of the Morning Star, and W. P. Kinsella's The Moccasin Telegraph, Chief Joseph: War Chief of the Nez Perce candidly addresses the U.S. government's reprehensible treatment of Native Americans. In their biographical novel, Ashabranner and Davis present Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce as ordinary men, devoted to their families and involved in routine daily activities, who want only to live peacefully. Joseph hunts and fishes with the young Nez Perce, rejoices at the birth of his second daughter, and grieves the deaths of Springtime, his second wife, and Ollicutt, his younger brother.
As the U.S. Army forces the Nez Perce to abandon their homes and traditions for life on a reservation, Joseph decides to move the village more than sixteen hundred miles to freedom in Canada. Ashabranner and Davis focus both on Joseph's battle with the government and on his inward struggle with his beliefs and emotions. Although it details scenes of hunting and fighting, the book presents a moving twist on the traditional adventure story of the frontier because it depicts the tragic destruction of a man and his culture.