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Thunder in the Mountains

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Before you stroll the streets on First Fridays in downtown Bend, check out this monthly review featuring reading recommendations courtesy of the Source and Dudley's Bookshop Cafe. Then head down to the shop for a discount!

With Father's Day right around the corner, it's time to look at some non-fiction—specifically, one of the best pieces of Oregon history written in recent memory. Most of us have a general understanding of who Chief Joseph was and what happened during the Nez Perce War, but Daniel Sharfstein's "Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard, and the Nez Perce War" is a stunning, heartbreaking retelling of those events that brings the main characters to life in a way no author has previously done.

Most books about the war focus on Chief Joseph, and rightfully so, but what makes this book different is that it gives equal time to General Howard, a fascinating character in his own right. Nonetheless, Joseph and the Nez Perce are the story here. Of the many Native American tribes and leaders who were forced from their lands during westward expansion, Joseph was without peer in his willingness to negotiate for fair treatment. They posed no threat to settlers and simply asked for the same protections the 14th Amendment guaranteed all citizens.

A powerful and captivating orator, Joseph's arguments were both morally and legally unassailable, and initially Howard was convinced the tribes were right. Tragically, settlers forced Howard, as the arm of the far-flung U.S. government, to drive the Nez Perce from their lands.

What follows is another tragic chapter of American history. Joseph believed the tribes and settlers could peacefully coexist. Sadly, Manifest Destiny trampled those beliefs in the dusty trails of northeast Oregon and beyond.


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