I Will Fight No More Forever by Merrill D. Beal

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I Will Fight No More Forever Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In his preface, Beal states his intention to create an objective account, one that would dispel the accepted myths that were used to depict “cowboys and Indians” for young people. Although the book was an official report commissioned by the National Park Service and was intended for an adult audience, it became a revisionist history text of interest to teenage readers because of its subject matter and its educational worth.

While Beal’s sympathies are evident, it is ironic that they lie with Joseph and the nontreaty Nez Perces and with most of the military leaders. His approach, which emphasizes historical context, is one of understanding toward the unfolding drama and toward some individuals’ uninformed reactions. He has little sympathy, however, for the decisions of politicians or commanders after the conflict had ended and the nature of the tribe was realized. Beal condemns the government for breaking the promises to which Joseph agreed at the surrender and for refusing to return the survivors to Idaho.

Beal’s evaluation of the history and characteristics of the Nez Perces is very favorable, but he does slip occasionally into culturally biased terms, such as referring to the tribe’s “high barbarian status” because of some Nez Perces’ willingness to adopt white civilization and Christianity. For the most part, however, he maintains an anthropological tone that relates the habits and values of the group. Factors that may have led to misunderstandings between the Nez Perces and white settlers or government representatives are analyzed, such as the tribe’s philosophy of self-determination that allows each individual freedom of action despite the opinions of chiefs or of the majority. Beal returns often to this theme of miscommunication and inadequate cultural information to explain the deterioration of the relationship between the tribe and the government.

The book focuses on the individuals who were affected by the conflict. While Beal strives to create a historical study, his text crosses over to biography through his extensive use of firsthand descriptions and through his habit of tracing the fates of certain participants. For example, the chapter “Seventh Cavalry Success” contains detailed, humanized portraits of the leaders—first the Nez Perce chiefs and then the U.S. Army officers. The reader learns that Chief Toohoolhoolzote was “insolent, abrupt, and provocative in manner and dress”; that Yellow Wolf had a “sensitive nature, with tragedy written in every lineament of his face”; and that General Howard was “diligent, energetic, considerate, and determined” but that his leadership showed no “flashes of brilliance or strokes of ingenuity.” The structure of the text, which places these biographies after the account of the battles, heightens the impact...

(The entire section is 680 words.)